Xenophon Kalamatiano

Xenophon Kalamatiano

Xenophon Kalamatiano was born in Austria on 14th July 1882. His father was killed in a street brawl in 1894. Later that year his mother married Constantine Paul Blumenthal, a young Jewish lawyer from St Petersburg lawyer. Soon afterwards the family emigrated to America.

In 1900 Kalamatiano began his studies at the University of Chicago. After graduating he worked for a while as a language teacher. Kalamatiano then became a representative of an agricultural machinery manufacturer. In 1906 he moved to Russia where he was appointed to the post of the American representative of the Russian Association of Commerce and Industry in Moscow.

During the First World War the State Department decided that it needed an agent working in Russia. In 1915 Professor Samuel N. Harper, recruited Kalamatiano while he was on a visit to America. On his return to St Petersburg he was under the control of the commercial attaché, Chapin Huntingdon. His work was described as collecting "information", rather than "intelligence". He also reported to Dewitt Clinton Poole, Consul General at the United States embassy in Moscow.

President Woodrow Wilson had argued against the use of intelligence services in a speech he made to Congress on 2nd April 1917. He claimed that in the past it had been used by monarchies and aristocracies to guard their privileged existence and had no place in the new democratic order where the people were entitled to know everything: "Self-governed nations do not fill their neighbour states with spies." Despite this claim he had dispatched a series of spies and saboteurs into neighbouring Mexico on missions which included an attempt to assassinate the revolutionary leader Pancho Villa.

The United States State Department was also taking a close interest in events in Russia. After the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in March, 1917, George Lvov was asked to head the new Provisional Government in Russia. One of the first announcements made by Lvov was that all political exiles were allowed to return to their homes. This included revolutionaries such as Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. In October, 1917, the Bolsheviks formed the world's first communist government.

Kalamatiano was also active in Russia and had been obtaining important military information from Colonel Alexander V. Friede, a member of the Russian General Staff. Friede also supplied him with a Russian passport made out in the name of Sergei Nikolayevich Serpukhovsky. This allowed him to travel around Russia and he successfully established a spy network in the Ukraine. According to one message sent to Dewitt Clinton Poole the network included seven agents and two couriers.

President Woodrow Wilson was opposed to intervention against the Bolshevik government. This was partly because he did not want to do anything that increased the power of the British and French empires. Secondly, as a democrat, he had no desire and did not want to help the return of the Russian monarchy. In March 1918 he sent a telegram to the Bolshevik government, via the American consulate in Moscow: "The whole heart of the people of the United States is with the people of Russia in the attempt to free themselves for ever from an autocratic government and to become the masters of their own fate."

In April 1918, Mansfield Smith-Cumming, the head of MI6 sent George Reilly to Russia. He joined a team that included the Robert Bruce Lockhart, the Head of Special Mission to the Soviet Government with the rank of acting British Consul-General, George Alexander Hill, Paul Dukes, Cudbert Thornhill, Ernest Boyce, Oswald Rayner and Stephen Alley. The main objective of this group was to bring about the overthrow of Lenin and the Bolshevik government. Xenophon Kalamatiano joined this conspiracy.

On 3rd August, 1918, Archangel was seized by 1,500 British and French troops under the command of Major General Frederick Cuthbert Poole. The following morning Cheka rounded up 200 British and French residents in Moscow. American citizens like Kalamatiano were left untouched as American forces did not join in the invasion until the following month. According to Alexander Orlov, a secret agent working for Cheka: "Lenin came to the conclusion that the British and French were definitely plotting the overthrow of the Soviet government. He suggested to Dzerhinsky that it would be a good thing if the Cheka could catch the foreign plotters red-handed and expose them to the world."

That summer, Jan Buikis, a Soviet soldier, made contact with Francis Cromie, the naval attaché at the British Embassy, and requested a meeting with Robert Bruce Lockhart. On 14th August, 1918, Buikis and Colonel Eduard Berzin, met Lockhart. Berzin told Lockhart that there was serious disaffection among the Lettish troops and asked for money to finance an anti-Bolshevik coup. Lockhart, who described Berzin as "a tall powerfully-built man with clear-cut features and hard steely eyes" was impressed by Berzen. He told Lockhart that he was a senior commander of the Lettish (Latvian) regiments that had been protecting the Bolshevik Government ever since the revolution. Berzin insisted that these regiments had proved indispensable to Lenin, saving his regime from several attempted coups d'état.

Lockhart claimed that initially he was suspicious of Berzin but was convinced by a letter that had been sent by Cromie: "Always on my guard against agents provocateurs, I scrutinized the letter carefully. It was unmistakably from Cromie. The handwriting was his... The letter closed with a recommendation of Berzin as a man who might be able to render us some service." Lockhart also believed Berzin's claim that the Latvian regiments had lost all enthusiasm for protecting the Revolutionary Government and wanted to return to Latvia. Another agent involved in the plot, George Alexander Hill, also believed Berzin was telling the truth and the men were in the ideal position to overthrow the Bolshevik government: "The Letts were the corner stone and foundation of the Soviet government. They guarded the Kremlin, gold stock and the munitions."

On 17th August, 1918, Moisei Uritsky, the Commissar for Internal Affairs in the Northern Region, was assassinated by Leonid Kannegisser, a young military cadet. Anatoly Lunacharsky commented: "They killed him. They struck us a truly well-aimed blow. They picked out one of the most gifted and powerful of their enemies, one of the most gifted and powerful champions of the working class." The Soviet press published allegations that Uritsky had been killed because he was unravelling "the threads of an English conspiracy in Petrograd".

Despite these claims, Robert Bruce Lockhart continued with his plans to overthrow the Bolshevik government. He had a meeting with a senior intelligence agent based in the French Embassy. He was convinced that Berzin was genuine in his desire to overthrow the Bolsheviks and was willing to put up some of the money needed: "The Letts are Bolshevik servants because they have no other resort. They are foreign hirelings. Foreign hirelings serve for money. They are at the disposal of the highest bidder." George Alexander Hill, another agent based in Petrograd, also believed Berzin was telling the truth and were in the ideal position to overthrow the Bolshevik government: "The Letts were the corner stone and foundation of the Soviet government. They guarded the Kremlin, gold stock and the munitions."

Lockhart arranged for it to be an Allied operation. On 25th August 1918, Consul-General Dewitt Clinton Poole attended a meeting with French Consul-General Joseph Fernand Grenard where the plot was discussed. Xenophon Kalamatiano arranged for 200,000 rubles to be contributed to the operation. Colonel Henri de Vertemont, the leading French intelligence agent in Russia also contributed money for the venture. Over the next week, George Reilly, Ernest Boyce and George Alexander Hill had regular meetings with Colonel Eduard Berzin, where they planned the overthrow of the Bolsheviks. During this period they handed over 1,200,000 rubles. Unknown to MI6 this money was immediately handed over to Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of Cheka. So also were the details of the British conspiracy.

Berzin told the agents that his troops had been to assigned to guard the theatre where the Soviet Central Executive Committee was to met. A plan was devised to arrest Lenin and Leon Trotsky at the meeting was to take place on 28th August, 1918. Robin Bruce Lockhart, the author of Reilly: Ace of Spies (1992) has argued: "Reilly's grand plan was to arrest all the Red leaders in one swoop on August 28th when a meeting of the Soviet Central Executive Committee was due to be held. Rather than execute them, Reilly intended to de-bag the Bolshevik hierarchy and with Lenin and Trotsky in front, to march them through the streets of Moscow bereft of trousers and underpants, shirt-tails flying in the breeze. They would then be imprisoned. Reilly maintained that it was better to destroy their power by ridicule than to make martyrs of the Bolshevik leaders by shooting them." Reilly's plan was eventually rejected and it was decided to execute the entire leadership of the Bolshevik Party.

Reilly later recalled: "At a given signal, the soldiers were to close the doors and cover all the people in the Theatre with their rifles, while a selected detachment was to secure the persons of Lenin and Trotsky... In case there was any hitch in the proceedings, in case the Soviets showed fight or the Letts proved nervous... the other conspirators and myself would carry grenades in our place of concealment behind the curtains." However, at the last moment, the Soviet Central Executive Committee meeting was postponed until 6th September.

On 31st August 1918 Dora Kaplan attempted to assassinate Lenin. It was claimed that this was part of the British conspiracy to overthrow the Bolshevik government and orders were issued by Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of Cheka, to round up the agents based in British Embassy in Petrograd. The naval attaché, Francis Cromie was killed resisting arrest. According to Robin Bruce Lockhart: "The gallant Cromie had resisted to the last; with a Browning in each hand he had killed a commissar and wounded several Cheka thugs, before falling himself riddled with Red bullets. Kicked and trampled on, his body was thrown out of the second floor window."

Ernest Boyce and Robert Bruce Lockhart were both arrested but George Reilly had a lucky escape. He arranged to meet Cromie that morning. He arrived at the British Embassy soon after Cromie had been killed: "The Embassy door had been battered off its hinges. The Embassy flag had been torn down. The Embassy had been carried by storm." George Alexander Hill and Reilly both went into hiding and were eventually smuggled out of Russia.

On 2nd September, 1918, Bolshevik newspapers splashed on their front pages the discovery of an Anglo-French conspiracy that involved undercover agents and diplomats. One newspaper insisted that "Anglo-French capitalists, through hired assassins, organised terrorist attempts on representatives of the Soviet." These conspirators were accused of being involved in the murder of Moisei Uritsky and the attempted assassination of Lenin. Lockhart and Reilly were both named in these reports. "Lockhart entered into personal contact with the commander of a large Lettish unit... should the plot succeed, Lockhart promised in the name of the Allies immediate restoration of a free Latvia."

An edition of Pravda declared that Lockhart was the main organiser of the plot and was labelled as "a murderer and conspirator against the Russian Soviet government". The newspaper then went on to argue: "Lockhart... was a diplomatic representative organising murder and rebellion on the territory of the country where he is representative. This bandit in dinner jacket and gloves tries to hide like a cat at large, under the shelter of international law and ethics. No, Mr Lockhart, this will not save you. The workmen and the poorer peasants of Russia are not idiots enough to defend murderers, robbers and highwaymen."

The following day Robert Bruce Lockhart was arrested and charged with assassination, attempted murder and planning a coup d'état. All three crimes carried the death sentence. The couriers used by British agents were also arrested. Lockhart's mistress, Maria Zakrveskia, who had nothing to do with the conspiracy, was also taken into custody. However, Sidney Reilly, George Alexander Hill, and Paul Dukes had all escaped capture and had successfully gone undercover.

Xenophon Kalamatiano had been on a special mission in Siberia and only arrived back in Moscow on 18th September. He was immediately arrested. He refused to answer questions but one of the Cheka officers noticed that he never parted with the cane he held in his hands. The officer asked to see the cane and began to examine it closely. Alexander Orlov, later recalled in his memoirs: "Kalamatiano turned pale and lost his composure. The investigation soon discovered that the cane contained an inner tube and he extracted it. In it were hidden a secret cipher, spy reports, a coded list of thirty-two spies and money receipts from some of them."

On 2nd October, 1918, the British government arranged for Robert Bruce Lockhart to be exchanged for captive Soviet officials such as Maxim Litvinov. After his release the remaining plotters were put on trial. They were all found guilty and Kalamatiano and Colonel Alexander V. Friede were condemned to death. The court also passed death sentences on Lockhart, Reilly, Joseph Fernand Grenard and Colonel Henri de Vertemont, noting that "they had all fled". They would all be shot if ever found on Soviet soil. Friede was executed on 14th December but Kalamatiano was sent to Lubyanka Prison. In the early weeks of his incarceration he was taken out several times into the courtyard for a mock execution. However, Felix Dzerzhinsky had decided that Kalamatiano was more use alive than dead.

Negotiations for Kalamatiano release began straight away. The Bolshevik government told the American government that "Kalamatiano had committed the highest crime against the soviet state, was properly tried according to Russian revolutionary law and is still considered dangerous to Soviet Russia." It was made clear that Kalamatiano would remain in custody as long as the American government gave support to the White Army.

On 19th November 1920 Kalamatiano managed to send out a message to the man who recruited him as an intelligence agent, Professor Samuel N. Harper: "Just a few words to tell you, and whichever of my friends you run across, that I am still very much alive - although skinny... Yesterday celebrated my 30th month of imprisonment in various institutions... However, as whatever happens outside finally is concentrated here I consider I have been given a box seat to watch the revolution and am not complaining of such an unusual opportunity. Several of your acquaintances have been here at various times. I trust sometime to tell you more about them all. At the present, names on paper are odious things... If I pull out alive, and I have every hope of doing so now - although at one time chances seemed to be rather on the undertaker's side - I hope we will have a chance of talking things over."

In the summer of 1921 famine was raging in the country and over 25 million Russians were facing starvation. On 27th July, the American Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes, warned the Soviet Foreign Minister, Maxim Gorky, in writing: "It is manifestly impossible for the American authorities to countenance measures of relief for the distress in Russia while our citizens are detailed." Three days later, the Bolsheviks agreed to release their American prisoners in return for American Relief Administration emergency help. Kalamatiano and five other Americans were released on 10th August 1921.

Kalamatiano was warned by Dewitt Clinton Poole that he must not tell anyone about his activities in Russia. He was dismissed from the State Department in December 1921 and given a job as a foreign language instructor at the Calver Military Academy. Despite official dissuasion, he did write his memoirs but no publisher was willing to accept his manuscript.

Xenophon Kalamatiano was a keen hunter and after one expedition in the winter of 1922 he suffered a frozen foot. It turned poisonous and toes had to be amputated. "I am departing the world in particles" he wrote from hospital to his old mentor, Professor Samuel N. Harper. The poison continued to attack his body and eventually damaged his heart. He died on 9th November 1923 of a condition certified by the doctors as "sub-acute septic endocarditis". He was forty-one years old.

Primary Sources

(1) Gordon Brook-Shepherd, Iron Maze: The Western Secret Services and the Bolsheviks (1998)

Like their governments, the Western secret services sought to remove, wherever practicable, the embarrassment of their failed challenge of 1918 and the Bolsheviks occasionally obliged. The best example is the case of Kalamatiano. The State Department's master-spy (it is idle to call him anything else) was not in Moscow when the Chekist raids on Western missions and their intelligence outposts took place. He had left the capital only a few hours before they were launched, on a special mission to Siberia agreed with Poole. The American consul shared the general Allied conviction that the regime could be toppled militarily only if the various anti-Bolshevik forces operating in the east, north and south of the country could somehow join hands. Samara, a key city in central Siberia where the great railway crossed the Volga, could serve as this strategic link and was already the seat of an imposing regional government. It was when Kalamatiano reached there after a week's arduous travel that he first heard of the mayhem in Moscow and Petrograd; even then, he had no idea how serious things were until he got back to the capital on 18 September.

Kalamatiano described his arrest in a long memorandum he was able to deliver to Washington later on, and corroborative details have been supplied by both American and Soviet sources. He realized the game was up as soon as he got back to the capital and learned from those of his contacts who were still on the run about the evacuation of Western diplomats, the disappearance of their key agents and the imprisonment of Lockhart. The arrest which troubled him most was that of Colonel Friede of the Red Army Moscow Communications Centre. Among other vital services to the network, Friede had supplied him with a genuine Russian passport made out in the name of Sergei Nikolayevich Serpukhovsky, under which he was now travelling. The colonel had presumably been made to tell all. The alias was not merely useless; it was damning.

Before leaving for Finland a few hours before, Poole had placed the American consulate-general under the protection of Norway, relations, of which it emerges as the mirror image. and its flag now flew over the building. Even the Cheka would surely not dare to raid those premises, and Kalamatiano's hopes were raised when he cautiously reconnoitered the area by daylight. There were Red Guard sentries posted around the building but all seemed peaceful enough and he could even see some of the Allied refugees who had already made it to this safe haven playing football in the gardens, as though their cares were over. All that was needed to join them was a fifty-yard dash through the adjoining grounds of the British church and then a clamber over the high perimeter fence around the consulate itself. He decided to wait until after dusk to make his attempt. Rain set in which made the ground slippery but, as he had hoped, the sentries outside the main gate started huddling over a wood fire to keep warm. He waited until the comrades still on patrol were on the other side of the perimeter and then rushed towards the fence - elegantly dressed in a dark coat and hat with grey spats over his well-polished shoes and clutching his precious walking stick in his left hand. That ornate cane proved his downfall in more senses than one. By refusing to abandon it, he was left with only his right arm to seize the top of the fence and lever himself over it. It was not enough. As his grip began to slacken on the wet top rail he felt a pair of arms grab him by the waist from below and heard the owner of the pair of arms yelling out for help. It was the janitor who had his hut by the gate which Kalamatiano had overlooked.

The second doleful consequence of hanging on to that cane came later that night when the top Cheka official, I.K. Peters (whom we have met already interrogating Lockhart), came to join in questioning the false 'Serpukhovsky'. The Cheka had already raided Kalamatiano's apartment and found nothing; a body search of the prisoner, who was refusing to talk, had been equally fruitless. The Chekists seemed at a dead end when eyes started to focus on that heavy walking stick, which the American was refusing to put down, even when moving across the room. The reason why was revealed when they took it from him for examination. It turned out to be hollow and the space inside was stuffed with bundles of roubles, cyphered messages and, most damaging of all, receipts for money from more than thirty coded informants. Kalamatiano had proved the case against him without uttering a word....

He (Kalamatiano) stuck to his story but at a cost. Norwegian consular officials were now his only link with the outside world as well as for representations to his Moscow jailers. The Norwegians managed, via the Russian Red Cross, to make his food supplies more than tolerable. Three times a week they sent in a parcel containing a pound of meat, a pound of potatoes, some bread, tea, sugar and cigarettes. There were also three weekly deliveries of very British fare (roast beef, mutton chops and veal cutlets for example) prepared especially for him at the former British consulate. Moreover his cigarette ration was eventually increased to the heavy smoker's allowance of fifty per day. But despite these creature comforts, his health continued to fail badly as the months went by in 1919 with seemingly no prospect of his release - so much so that his Norwegian consular visitors feared at one point that he might even be going mad.

(2) Xenophon Kalamatiano, letter to Dewitt Clinton Poole (September, 1918)

On September 1st, No. 5, his sister, mother, other sister and brother were arrested when his sister carried a report to Reilly's place where she was arrested and the report taken... All others, i.e. 24, 10, 11, 8 were caught by the watch on No. 5's house. No. 12 was arrested after I was through a receipt found on me. No. 7 was arrested because of the blackmailing letter he had written and which I had kept in my old home... No. 28, 2 and 4 are safe. You could communication with the former. The Ukraine organisation is safe and you could get in touch with it through No. 2 at Charkov. We have there No. 2, 3, 16, 17, 18, 21, 23 and two couriers.

(3) Xenophon Kalamatiano, letter to Professor Samuel N. Harper (19th November, 1920)

Just a few words to tell you, and whichever of my friends you run across, that I am still very much alive - although skinny...

Yesterday celebrated my 30th month of imprisonment in various institutions - Byke, two different camps, 8 months of Kremlin and the Butyrki solitaries - a liberal education in itself.

However, as whatever happens outside finally is concentrated here I consider I have been given a box seat to watch the revolution and am not complaining of such an unusual opportunity.

Several of your acquaintances have been here at various times. I trust sometime to tell you more about them all. At the present, names on paper are odious things...

If I pull out alive, and I have every hope of doing so now - although at one time chances seemed to be rather on the undertaker's side - I hope we will have a chance of talking things over.