John Dymoke Scale was born in Wales on 27th December 1882. He was educated at Repton School and Sandhurst Military College. On 8th May 1901 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was posted to India and in 1903 he was promoted to lieutenant with the 87th Punjabis Regiment in the British Indian Army.
In December 1912 he was transferred to Russia and the following year he qualified as a 1st Class Interpreter. On the outbreak of the First World War Scale was sent to the Western Front. In August 1916 he was attached to the to the British Secret Intelligence Service in Petrograd, where he served under Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Hoare. Michael Smith, the author of Six: A History of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (2010) has argued: "Scale, a 6 foot 4 inch Indian Army officer, had been serving on the Western Front when his ability to speak Russian led to him being called back to England to escort a group of influential Russian parliamentarians, and ultimately to his recruitment by Cumming to advise Hoare on military matters and act as the link-man with Thornhill and Steveni."
Christopher Andrew, the author of Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community (1985) argues: "Captain Scale, then on active service in France, was transferred to Petrograd to advise Hoare on battle order intelligence." One of his fellow agents described him as "tall, handsome, well-red, intelligent with a debonair manner which endeared him to everyone." Other members of the unit included Oswald Rayner, Cudbert Thornhill and Stephen Alley.
The British Secret Intelligence Service became concerned about the influence that Grigory Rasputin was having on Russian foreign policy. In a document written by Scale in November 1916 warned that "German intrigue was becoming more intense daily" and "the sinister influence which seemed to be clogging the war machine, Rasputin the drunken debauche influencing Russia's policy". Rumours also began to circulate that Tsarina Alexandra Fedorovna and Rasputin were leaders of a pro-German court group and were seeking a separate peace with the Central Powers in order to help the survival of the autocracy in Russia.
Scale recorded: "German intrigue was becoming more intense daily. Enemy agents were busy whispering of peace and hinting how to get it by creating disorder, rioting, etc. Things looked very black. Romania was collapsing, and Russia herself seemed weakening. The failure in communications, the shortness of foods, the sinister influence which seemed to be clogging the war machine, Rasputin the drunken debaucher influencing Russia's policy, what was to the be the end of it all?"
On 24th November 1916 Scale was sent to Romania to assist in a British Secret Intelligence Service operation to destroy the Romanian oil fields and corn harvest ahead of the invading German troops. According to Richard Cullen, the author of Rasputin (2010): "Muriel (Scale's daughter) was compelling during her interview when she reiterated that her father had told her he was sent to Romania because he had to be out of Russia at the time."
Grigory Rasputin was assassinated on 29th December, 1916. Soon afterwards Prince Felix Yusupov, Vladimir Purishkevich, the leader of the monarchists in the Duma, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich Romanov, Dr. Stanislaus de Lazovert and Lieutenant Sergei Mikhailovich Sukhotin, an officer in the Preobrazhensky Regiment, confessed to being involved in the killing.
On 7th January 1917, Stephen Alley wrote to Scale in Romania: "Although matters have not proceeded entirely to plan, our objective has clearly been achieved. Reaction to the demise of Dark Forces (a codename for Rasputin) has been well received by all, although a few awkward questions have already been asked about wider involvement. Rayner is attending to loose ends and will no doubt brief you on your return."
Richard Cullen, the author of Rasputin (2010), has argued that the assassination of Grigory Rasputin had been organised by Scale, Oswald Rayner and Stephen Alley: "Rasputin's death was calculated, brutal, violent and slow and it was orchestrated by John Scale, Stephen Alley and Oswald Rayner through the close personal relationship that existed between Rayner and Yusupov." Cullen adds: "Given the clear and supportable assertions that he (Scale) was involved in the plot to kill Rasputin, was this the reason for his absence from Petrograd?"
Scale narrowly escaped capture by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution. In 1918 he became head of the British Secret Intelligence Service station in Stockholm. Scale, along with Oswald Rayner, recruited Russian speakers to infiltrate Russia.
John Scale, who retired in 1927 at the rank of lieutenant colonel, died aged sixty-seven on 22nd April 1949.
German intrigue was becoming more intense daily. Enemy agents were busy whispering of peace and hinting how to get it by creating disorder, rioting, etc. Things looked very black. Romania was collapsing, and Russia herself seemed weakening. The failure in communications, the shortness of foods, the sinister influence which seemed to be clogging the war machine, Rasputin the drunken debaucher influencing Russia's policy, what was to the be the end of it all?
Dear Scale, No response has thus far been received from London in respect of your oilfields proposal...
Although matters have not proceeded entirely to plan, our objective has clearly been achieved. Reaction to the demise of "Dark Forces" (a codename for Rasputin) has been well received by all, although a few awkward questions have already been asked about wider involvement. Rayner is attending to loose ends and will no doubt brief you on your return.
John Dymoke Scale told Cumming that he was sending Leo Steveni (a fluent Russian-speaker whose father had been a timber merchant in the country) to Canada "to enlist & instruct agents for Russia". In March 1918 they discussed trying to exploit some of the estimated twenty thousand sailors on sequestered Russian ships who were about to be repatriated. On 15 March he "introduced Mr. Reilly who is willing to go to Russia for us" to Cumming, who noted in his diary that Reilly was "very clever
- very doubtful - has been everywhere & done everything". Reilly was to "take out £500 in notes & £750 in diamonds", but Cumming felt it "a great gamble as he is to visit all our men in Vologda, Kief [sic], Moscow etc". Reilly, the so-called "ace of spies" - brilliant, audacious and uncontrollable - was to work for Cumming over the next few years. He had been born Shlomo Rosenblum in (or near) Odessa in the early 1870s. In the late 1890s, having moved to England, he married an Irishwoman and reinvented himself as "Sidney George Reilly". By 1918 he had travelled extensively in Asia, made money in various business ventures and lived in France, England, Russia and the USA, where in 1917 he met Norman Thwaites, who appears to have provided the link to Scale and the opportunity to work for MI6. He did not, however, come particularly well recommended from New York, whence a series of cables described him as "untrustworthy and unsuitable"; "a shrewd businessman of undoubted ability but without patriotism or principles and therefore not to be recommended for any position which requires loyalty as he would not hesitate to use it to further his own commercial interests"; and a "Greek Jew; very clever; entirely unscrupulous". He was, indeed, another of Cumming's scallywags.
Questions have also been raised about why Alley should write such a letter and how it would reach Scale. The days of mobile phones were many decades away, of course, and communication was generally either by telegram or letter so a letter is a reasonable way to communicate, sent either by courier or by normal military despatches.
In the absence of evidence to the contrary the letter has to be accepted as genuine or else - and the spectre of this concerns me created ex post facto for the purpose of financial gain, a view which I do not accept and in the absence of proof reject. I have seen criticism of the content of the letter that suggests it does not conclusively show British involvement, the logic of which eludes me. Let me dissect it.
"Dear Scale, No response has thus far been received from London in respect of your oilfields proposal.' There is clear evidence to show Scale's involvement in the destruction of the Romanian oil fields in face of the advancing German troops.
"Although matters have not proceeded entirely to plan, our objective has clearly been achieved." Well, we know things had not gone to plan: the body had been recovered from the Nevka when the intention was that it would never he seen again; Yusupov had been detained at the station on the way to the Crimea, the police had attended the Yusupov Palace as a result of hearing "shots". But if the objective was, as I suggest, to prevent a separate peace with Germany by removing Rasputin, then yes, it had been achieved.
"Reaction to the demise of Dark Forces has been well received by all, although a few awkward questions have already been asked about wider involvement." We know that Purishkevich referred to Rasputin as Dark Forces, and we know from the Scale papers and from his daughter's evidence that her father used the same term when referring to Rasputin - this was the accepted code word for him. This issue is not in doubt and William Le Queux used the term Dark Forces to describe Rasputin as early as 1918. Brian Moynahan provides more information about how commonly the term was applied to Rasputin when he tells us:
On December 8 the Union of Towns, an important municipal body, went into secret session. It passed a resolution: "The government, now become an instrument of the dark forces, is driving Russia to her ruin and is shattering the imperial throne. In this grave hour the country requires a government worthy of a great people. There is not a clay to lose!' Secrets were no longer kept. The resolution was circulated in Roneo script in thousands of copies. Dark forces was simple code for Grigorii Rasputin and those about him.
And I hope no one would doubt he died and therefore it was his "demise". We know that awkward questions had been asked: the Tsar confronted the British ambassador and accused Rayner (although not by name) of being involved. Hoare had become involved in the debate and there were some very tricky questions to be answered.
Alley's letter goes on: "Rayner is attending to loose ends and will no doubt brief you on your return." We know that Rayner was with Yusupov the morning after the murder, and we also know he was with Yusupov at the station when Yusupov was arrested.
It is very difficult to see how anyone, given the analysis of the letter and the facts I have outlined above, cannot say that it provides primary evidence of British involvement and that the "accepted version" of the events was in fact a cynical conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The intelligence operations going on in the background were run by Alley, Captain John Dymoke Scale, the subsequent recruiter of Sidney Reilly, and another MI1c officer, Lieutenant Oswald Rayner, who had been sent out in November 1915 with Major Henry Vere Benet to carry out an extensive "censorship" of telegrams and mail examined in total collaboration with the Russian authorities, while sharing the intelligence it produced on a rather more selective basis. Some of the most productive material came on Scandinavian shipping companies taking goods into or out of Germany through the Royal Navy economic blockade...
Scale, a 6 foot 4 inch Indian Army officer, had been serving on the Western Front when his ability to speak Russian led to him being called back to England to escort a group of influential Russian parliamentarians, and ultimately to his recruitment by Cumming to advise Hoare on military matters and act as the link-man with Thornhill and Steveni. He was billeted in the Astoria Hotel, "a fine five-storeyed building", with marble stairs, plate glass windows, brilliant brasswork and mahogany, thick red carpets and graceful palms, which gave it "a glow of comfort unknown in any other hotel in Petrograd". The Astoria was taken over by the government at the outbreak of hostilities and was now the "official" hotel, open only to diplomats, officers and officials.
"Its salons ware kaleidoscopes of movement and colour," Scale recalled. "Cossacks, guardsmen, naval officers, in fact men in every Russian uniform imaginable, military and civil (most civilians in Russia wear uniform) sat at tables or stood in groups chatting with their women folk, often very beautiful women they were too in wonderful clothes and jewellery. Here and there among the throng officers in the uniform of one or other of the allied powers were conspicuous. No taciturnity or absence of smiles was noticeable here. In fact, one could hardly recognise the airs played by the military band so loud was the buzz of talk and laughter. A cheery, careless place was the Astoria (a happy hunting ground for enemy agents too!)."
Scale worked across the intelligence system, assisting Thornhill as well as Hoare. Shortly after Scale arrived in Petrograd, Cumming set up the military control system, initially with two offices in Russia, one run by Alley in Petrograd, with offices at 19 Moika Embankment, and the second at Archangel, run by Lieutenant-Commander Malcolm McLaren RNVR, another of Cumming's officers. McLaren was another Briton who had worked in Russia's oilfields, although he is said to have previously been a sea captain and wore gold earrings that "gave him the look of a pirate". There were sub-stations at Tornea on the border between Sweden and Finland, where Lieutenant Harry Gruner checked people coming in and out of Russia; in the Far East at Vladivostok, where Lieutenant Leonard Binns RNVIZ was assistant military control officer.