Hitler's Man in Havana: Heinz Luning and Nazi Espionage in Latin America
At the beginning of World War II, Heinz August Lüning, posing as a Jewish refugee, was sent to Cuba to spy for the Third Reich. Lüning’s assignment was to collect information about the United States and its allies and report back to Abwehr, the German foreign intelligence agency. The Caribbean waters Lüning monitored were important to the Allies both for shipping and for deploying ships between the various fronts. Despite some early setbacks, Lüning provided information on naval activities to the Germans. Ultimately, however, Lüning was arrested and became the only Nazi spy executed in Latin America during World War II. 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 the dangerous, key spy for a Nazi espionage network in the Gulf-Caribbean.British counterintelligence agent Graham Greene, who oversaw one group supervising Nazi communications areas, picked up Lüning’s story and made it into a seminal spy novel. In Hitler’s Man in Havana, Thomas Schoonover investigates the true story of the life, career, and death of Heinz August Lüning. In the sixty years since Lüning worked in the Caribbean, very little has been written about Nazi espionage in Latin America because the U.S. government kept much of the material secret. Schoonover draws from extensive research to recreate Lüning’s story and explore the significance of his life and capture.
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.
Thomas D. Schoonover is professor emeritus of history at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He is the author of eight books, including Uncle Sam’s War of 1898 and the Origins of Globalization, The Banana Men, and Germany in Central America.
"The author tells a fascinating story, weaves in appropriate historical analysis, and does so in an engaging fashion. I know of no other work that gives so thorough an explanation of how Axis and Allied spies obtained their information."--Jürgen Buchenau, author of Tools of Progress: A German Merchant Family in Mexico City, 1865-Present
"Hitler's Man in Havana's archival research is wide-ranging, exhaustive, and unprecendented in bringing together heretofore untapped sources, many of them obtained by the author's FOIA requests, to make possible the telling of a story never satisfactorily presented before. The narrative is often gripping and firmly contextualized in the historical events of the period, not only tracking Lüning's activities but explaining the broader trends that produced his strange journey."--Max Paul Friedman, author of Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign against the Germans of Latin America in World War II
"A fascinating study of an obscure German spy in Cuba during the second world war who was captured and executed in November 1942. Schoonover shows why the arrest and execution of an otherwise ordinary, even incompetent spy became such a sensation, as it served various and often competing objectives of politicians, diplomats, and intelligence officials in Cuba, the United States, Great Britain, and other countries. He shows why it is important to put the story of U.S. diplomacy and strategy in a wider, global context."--Akira Iriye, author of Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World
"A wonderfully told story, at times too weird and funny to be true (yet it is), of the key German espionage agent in Cuba and the strategic Caribbean entry to the Panama Canal--and the only agents captured and executed in Latin America during World War II. Its cast of characters include not only this rather hapless German spy who tried to use a dead radio for his transmissions, but Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene, as well as self-serving, ego driven U.S. and Cuban bureaucrats. . . . One of the more fascinating and instructive stories of attempted espionage in World War II."--Walter LaFeber, Andrew and James Tisch University Professor, Cornell University
"Schoonover tells a good story, of interest to historians of German espionage, Allied counterintelligence, and inter-American relations." --Norman J. W. Goda, Journal of Military History
"The book is written eloquently and gracefully. [It] will provide the reader who harbors passion for history with an electrifying and rich account of details that expose the political upheavals of the time." --Richard Skaff,armchairinterviews.com
"Hitler’s Man in Havana has several stories to tell, all interwoven. All of these stores are interesting, and the book will likely inform, and perhaps amuse, students of espionage and covert activities, Latin American history, and World War II." --The NYMAS Review
“This book tells the fascinating story behind Graham Greene’s main character in his celebrated novel Our Man in Havana. The book sheds light on the various competing factions working for the Allies during that dark historical period.” --Himilce Novas, Multicultural Review
"All of these stories are interesting, and the book will likely inform, and perhaps amuse , students of espionage and covert activities, Latin American history, and World War II." --NYMAS
Using extensive archival and other sources from Germany, Great Britain, Cuba, and the United States, Schoonover provides a meticulously documents account." --Central European History
"Schoonover provides a meticulously documented account of the blundering and failed activity of the German Abwehr (intelligence) agent, Heinz Lüning, in Havana. . . . The author has reconstructed much of Lüning’s life that appears on the surface as comic and humorous – until it found a tragic and brutal end." --Central European History
"Thomas Schoonover's intriguing story of Heinz Lüning, a largely inconsequential figure of limited abilities in Nazi espionage, is based solidly on recently declassified Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) files, as well as the records from archives in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States." --Global War Studies
“Schoonover weaves a fascinating tale of intrigue that opens windows for the reader with regard to key aspects of the intelligence communities in Cuba, Europe, and the United States.” --H-Net Reviews