Who would you consider the most important spy of the modern age? Your short list should have some great names on it, like Juan Pujol Garcia, who deceived the Nazi’s in ways that made the D-Day invasion much more likely to succeed. But in terms of impact, few have had a bigger role in shaping events than Richard Sorge. He was one of the most fearless and productive spies in history.
Sorge was a Soviet military intelligence officer active before and during World War II. He posed as a German journalist in both Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan.
While in Japan in 1940 and 1941 he provided significant information indicating that the Nazi’s intended to invade the Soviet Union. Stalin refused to believe this, but Sorge was right.
In mid September 1941 he provided actionable intelligence that informed the Soviet command that Japan was not going to attack the Soviet Union in the near term. This allowed the Soviet leadership to transfer 18 divisions, 1,700 tanks and over 1,500 aircraft from Siberia and the Far East to the Western Front against Nazi Germany during the most critical months of the Battle for Moscow, one of the turning points in World War II.
A month later Sorge was arrested in Japan on the counts of espionage. The German Abwehr legitimately denied he was an agent; USSR repudiated him and refused three offers to spare him through a prisoner exchange. He was tortured, forced to confess, tried, and then hanged in November 1944. Two decades passed before he was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union in 1964.