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Hitler's Man in Havana

Hitler's Man in Havana: Heinz Luning and Nazi Espionage in Latin America

Thomas D. Schoonover
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Hitler's Man in Havana
    Book Description:

    When Heinz Lüning posed as a Jewish refugee to spy for Hitler's Abwehr espionage agency, he thought he had discovered the perfect solution to his most pressing problem: how to avoid being drafted into Hitler's army. Lüning was unsympathetic to Fascist ideology, but the Nazis' tight control over exit visas gave him no chance to escape Germany. He could enter Hitler's army either as a soldier... or a spy. In 1941, he entered the Abwehr academy for spy training and was given the code name "Lumann." Soon after, Lüning began the service in Cuba that led to his ultimate fate of being the only German spy executed in Latin America during World War II. Lüning was not the only spy operating in Cuba at the time. Various Allied spies labored in Havana; the FBI controlled eighteen Special Intelligence Service operatives, and the British counterintelligence section subchief Graham Greene supervised Secret Intelligence Service agents; and Ernest Hemingway's private agents supplied inflated and inaccurate information about submarines and spies to the U.S. ambassador, Spruille Braden. Lüning stumbled into this milieu of heightened suspicion and intrigue. Poorly trained and awkward at his work, he gathered little information worth reporting, was unable to build a working radio and improperly mixed the formulas for his secret inks. Lüning eventually was discovered by British postal censors and unwittingly provided the inspiration for Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana. In chronicling Lüning's unlikely trajectory from a troubled life in Germany to a Caribbean firing squad, Thomas D. Schoonover makes brilliant use of untapped documentary sources to reveal the workings of the famed Abwehr and the technical and social aspects of Lüning's spycraft. Using archival sources from three continents, Schoonover offers a narrative rich in atmospheric details to reveal the political upheavals of the time, not only tracking Lüning's activities but also explaining the broader trends in the region and in local counterespionage. Schoonover argues that ambitious Cuban and U.S. officials turned Lüning's capture into a grand victory. For at least five months after Lüning's arrest, U.S. and Cuban leaders -- J. Edgar Hoover, Fulgencio Batista, Nelson Rockefeller, General Manuel Benítez, Ambassador Spruille Braden, and others -- treated Lüning as a dangerous, key figure for a Nazi espionage network in the Gulf-Caribbean. They reworked his image from low-level bumbler to master spy, using his capture for their own political gain. In the sixty years since Lüning's execution, very little has been written about Nazi espionage in Latin America, partly due to the reticence of the U.S. government. Revealing these new historical sources for the first time, Schoonover tells a gripping story of Lüning's life and capture, suggesting that Lüning was everyone's man in Havana but his own.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7302-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Louis A. Pérez Jr.

    Latin America was one of the few parts of the world that was not directly involved in World War II. As air raids and land campaigns laid waste to cities and countryside in Asia, Europe, and Africa, Latin America appeared to have remained at the margins of the drama that engulfed the vast portion of humanity. Certainly, this has long been the conventional historiographic wisdom. The received knowledge is not, of course, without some basis. Measured by the magnitude of the loss of life and the destruction of property, the Latin American experience during the war years was relatively tranquil....

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xxii)
  5. Acronyms/Glossary
    (pp. xxiii-2)
  6. Introduction Pushed to the Edge of Defeat in 1942
    (pp. 3-8)

    The Lüning episode had characteristics of the contemporary “weapons of mass destruction” phenomenon. It was seized as an opportunity to manipulate opinion and to produce beneficial rewards and consequences for these manipulators. Political, military, and counterespionage leaders sought praise, prestige, and power for their institutions. It is not possible to accurately assess the significance of the Lüning episode without recalling the increasingly threatening and ultimately violent history around the world from 1931 until the U.S. entry into World War II after December 7, 1941. Rising tension and overt hostility marked East Asia, North Africa, and Europe in these years.


  7. 1 A Troubled Life
    (pp. 11-24)

    In September 1942, the recently captured Nazi Abwehr agent in Havana Heinz August Lüning was considered a master spy and the most important spy captured in the Western Hemisphere. Initially, the FBI-SIS suspected that this Nazi headed a spy network that was instrumental in German U-boat successes in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. This perception made Lüning a serious threat to the Allied campaigns in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific and to the Allied ability to draw on the foodstuff, refined petroleum, and minerals required to fight the war effectively.

    Over the next two years, the FBI-SIS...

  8. 2 The World He Scarcely Knew
    (pp. 25-52)

    Despite being considered by several Allied officials the most important Nazi spy caught in Latin America during World War II, Heinz Lüning knew little about the region where he was to do his secret work and meet his end. Nor did he understand well the strategic security importance of Cuba and the greater Caribbean. He had visited New York City and Santo Domingo in 1936 and 1937 for family reasons, not out of curiosity and interest in Latin America. Even later, Heinz served the Abwehr, not out of special interest in Latin America but as an unexpected option to escape...

  9. 3 Back to School! Trained as a Nazi Spy
    (pp. 53-62)

    In July 1941, Hans Joachim Koelln arranged for Lüning to enter the Abwehr academy in Hamburg. From the beginning, Lüning seemed anxious to go to the Western Hemisphere. Later, after he was captured, rumors surfaced about earlier Abwehr service. There is no evidence to support this allegation and considerable evidence that it was not true. An FBI-SIS investigation rejected these unsubstantiated claims that Lüning had conducted espionage activity while in the Dominican Republic in 1936 and 1937. The FBI was convinced that Lüning entered the spy world only in 1941.¹ The Abwehr files and other evidence from his family and...

  10. 4 Tested in Action
    (pp. 63-92)

    Despite a rather dismal record of education in his young life, Lüning had finished the Abwehr academy. This may say more about the Abwehr’s need for agents than Lüning’s maturity or suitability as an agent. Perhaps the Abwehr was more concerned about getting people into Latin America than locating and training qualified agents. Certainly, when Lüning entered Abwehr service after two years of wartime mobilization, the pool of potential German agents was very thin. Under pressure to get agents into Latin America once the war became global, the Abwehr had to train the best prospects it could find. Lüning’s year...

  11. 5 Failure and Fatality
    (pp. 93-122)

    To all appearances, the Germans operated an effective, dangerous spy network. The evidence was the catastrophically successful German U-boat campaign in the Gulf-Caribbean from February to November 1942. Presumably, terminating the German spy network in the Caribbean would involve hard work, intrigue, cunning, and humor. The end of Lüning’s personal story had satiric and melodramatic twists. The British, U.S., and Cuban governments increased intelligence cooperation after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The newly established U.S. Office of Censorship under Director Byron Price joined the British Bermuda and Trinidad stations to monitor the airwaves, ship travel, and surface and airmail...

  12. Photo gallery
    (pp. None)
  13. 6 Their Man in Havana
    (pp. 123-140)

    On October 25, 1942, Washington, D.C., police motorcycles escorted a vain Cuban chief of police, General Manuel Benítez, through the capital, for a meeting with J. Edgar Hoover. Benítez and Hoover basked in the light of photographers’ flashbulbs as they shared the glory of capturing Germany’s master spy in the Americas. They also shared a cover-up. Hoover knew, and Benítez should have known, that Lüning was not a master spy. He had never radioed German submarines, and British censors in Bermuda had done most of the work to catch him. Just over a month later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt would...

  14. 7 Graham Greene’s Man in Havana
    (pp. 141-154)

    Lüning was reincarnated fifteen years later in the guise of James Wormold, Great Britain’s and Graham Greene’s “man in Havana.” Graham Greene, who served in MI6 and shared responsibility for oversight of British counterespionage in the Caribbean in 1943 and 1944, apparently drew on the importance assigned to Lüning and the large volume of material about him when he wrote the 1958Our Man in Havana.

    A brief sketch of Greene’s novel should allow the reader to discern similarities between Heinz August Lüning and Wormold, Greene’s fictional Anglican British resident in Havana and MI6 spy. The novel is set in...

  15. CONCLUSION A Story More Familiar Than Expected
    (pp. 155-158)

    Lüning’s brief career served others more effectively than it served him. He was, in fact, first Hitler’s, then Canaris’s, Benítez’s, Batista’s, Braden’s, and Hoover’s man in Havana. After the war, Lüning became Theodore Koop’s, Kurt Singer’s, Klaus-Peter Bochow’s, and Graham Greene’s man in Havana. Two politicians, one politician-bureaucrat, three secret service heads, one censorship bureaucrat, two journalists, and one serious novelist with an impish sense of humor were the public beneficiaries of Lüning’s Abwehr service. It seems that he was everybody’s man in Havana but his own.

    Hitler’s regime, Batista, Benítez, Braden, Hoover, Koop, Singer, Bochow, and Greene all achieved...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 159-186)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-208)
  18. Index
    (pp. 209-218)