Chapter Three - Captain Lohmann: Rearmament by Stealth
A man like Volck was a lone wolf; he acted on his own and planned his reckless escapades for personal or financial advantage, hoping to ensure their success with the help of astrology. But another man who consulted me was just as deeply involved in the approaching disaster, though in a way that appeared more legitimate and certainly more intelligent.
Walter Lohmann, a former naval captain, worked for the Intelligence Service in the Weimar Republic. He was chiefly concerned with Eastern espionage and was a section head in the Navy Department, which at that time came under the jurisdiction of the War Ministry. It must have been in the winter of 1925-26 that Lohmann first contacted me. He remained my client until his death in 1930.
Both the timing and the manner of this contact were entirely typical. First Lohmann sent an associate with examples of his handwriting. A few weeks later I met him in person. In the immediate postwar period Lohmann's work had involved the implementation of the armistice conditions. When I met him, this work appeared to be at an end. As an officer in a defeated army which had been reduced to 100,000 men, Lohmann was far from sanguine about his future, although it seemed to me that he had not fully appreciated the potential of his new post in the Intelligence Service. He had realized that to be successful, a modern counter-espionage service had to protect the masses from ideological infiltration. For this reason he wanted to make new-style propaganda films. He had first conceived the idea under the impact of the great Soviet films of the 1920s. Einstein's Battleship Potemkin was not only an artistic milestone in the history of the cinema, but also a great piece of Communist propaganda. The combination of the new close-up technique with crowd scenes produced contrast effects which were both exciting and highly suggestive; the bourgeois public of the Western world was deeply moved by the revolutionary pathos of this film. At its German premiere, in one of the large cinemas in Berlin, the audience stood up at the end of the performance and shouted, "Long live Moscow! Long live world revolution!"
It was this experience that had prompted Lohmann to consider the possibility of using the German film industry for "patriotic" purposes. He wanted to produce artistic films which would propagate the image of a "good Germany" both at home and abroad. To us, today, it seems almost as if Captain Lohmann were anticipating the Kulturpolitik of Dr. Goebbels, who harnessed the whole of the German film industry for purposes of nationalist propaganda within a few years of Lohmann's death. However, Lohmann's aims were far less ambitious. He was no National Socialist "minister of culture." He merely wished to serve the interests of his country by developing new lines of access to the public. Today this development may strike us as mistaken and dangerous. But the Lohmann affair shows the sort of ideas that were
in the air in Germany barely ten years before the National Socialists came to power. It also illustrates the process by which the German Officer Corps, which was supposed to be entirely neutral, was becoming more and more political, partly because of dissatisfaction with its own status, partly as a result of the pressures brought to bear on it by the instability of the state.
And so Lohmann decided to make films. But of course this sort of project could not be undertaken either by the Reichswehr (the army) or by the government. Consequently the German film industry had to be won over, and this demanded guaranteed financial backing which could only be arranged if the government were prepared to underwrite the necessary bank loans.
Lohmann decided that the best way to realize his project and retain control of it was to acquire a majority interest in a film company, the sort of interest normally held by a backer. The Phoebus Film Company, a competent but undercapitalized concern whose offices were situated next to the Naval Department on the Bendlerstrasse in Berlin, seemed a suitable target. In addition, Lohmann had discovered that Phoebus had entered negotiations with American backers. The prospect of an American-controlled company in the immediate vicinity of his own office did not please him at all. But he realized also that the American threat would impress on his superiors the importance of his undertaking when he requested official aid.
At first things went well. The bank with which Lohmann entered into negotiations quickly agreed to lend 3,000,000 reichsmarks, provided the Treasury gave the requisite guarantee. By stressing the need to preserve the Phoebus concern from American monopolization, Lohmann hoped to persuade Dr. Gessler, then head of the Naval Department and Minister of Defense, and Dr. Reinhold, the Minister of Finance, to give a written guarantee.
Lohmann was not altogether happy about the date proposed by Reinhold for their discussion, and since he was free to suggest an alternative date, he asked me to calculate the good and bad days for the project. This request was entirely feasible; according to Indian astrological teaching, it is possible to establish the Pakschachidra days-i.e., the days of inactivity, those on which specific enterprises are not likely to succeed. The fact that we were able to establish a favorable timetable in advance proved at least temporarily beneficial in Lohmann's case.
He succeeded in getting the money. But this loan was just the first step along the road that was to lead Phoebus Films deeper and deeper into debt. Just one year after the first massive injection of capital the company asked for more money to finance its big new production program. Lohmann not only believed in his idea, but he also believed that the films produced by Phoebus would enjoy a mounting success. He succeeded in arranging two further loans of 3,500,000 and 920,000 marks respectively, for which the state was again required to stand surety. That was in 1927. It was in connection with these new loans that I had my first actual meeting with Captain Lohmann. By then the treasury had guaranteed more than 6,000,000 marks for Phoebus. But before the year was out, it was apparent that Lohmann had miscalculated. Phoebus Films was a sick company teetering on the brink of ruin. By nature Lohmann was a cautious man. Why then had he not become suspicious of Phoebus' chief executive, Corell, at an earlier stage? Lohmann, in fact, was fascinated and even blinded by Corell's initial offer and his grandiose promise to produce films superior to Battleship Potemkin. As the project grew more and more fantastic, Corell grew more eloquent. He assured Lohmann that, once the films were distributed, the loans would quickly be repaid.
Not only were the loans not repaid, but they even failed to cover the production costs. In the end, mismanagement caused a halt in work on a feature film project, with many of the most important scenes still to be shot. At the end of 1927 Corell was obliged to advise Lohmann that unless still more money was forthcoming, the whole project would collapse. Lohmann had been tricked by the Phoebus management into believing he would have real control of the project. In fact, the actual contract gave him no power at all. Lohmann turned to me, but it was too late. Further investment would only delay the inevitable.
Lohmann had to face the consequences. In the summer of 1927 he was relieved of his post and sent on leave pending an official inquiry, and on December 7 of the same year he was informed that his appointment in the Intelligence Service would be terminated as of March 31, 1928. The official explanation said Lohmann had exceeded his powers. At this, Parliament and the parliamentary parties pricked up their ears, and the press began to report the great financial scandal. General Groener, the new Minister of Defense, did his best to explain that Lohmann had not acted dishonorably. In his speech to the Reichstag he said that Captain Lohmann had erred primarily because he had considered the Phoebus director, Corell, to be trustworthy and a competent film-maker. According to the report in the Vossische Zeitung Groener said, "Even though the economic development of the Phoebus company failed to live up to the expectations placed in it, it should be borne in mind that Corell has now been made a member of the UFA management, which means that persons of authority in that great firm also had confidence in Corell's technical competence.
In other words, Corell had made a happy landing while Lohmann had been exposed and forced out of public life. His dismissal was nonetheless honorable, for it was stated unequivocally that he had at no time sought personal advantage from the Phoebus enterprise. And yet this affair was anything but harmless.
In actual fact the Phoebus Company was just one tiny component in the vast German intelligence system. Moreover, this investment, which had appeared so misguided at the time, actually paid off in the long run; the idea of shooting full-length feature films illustrating Prussian history was put into effect in the early 1930s, when the famous actor Otto Gebühr appeared in the Fridericus Rex series. These films used thousands of extras for battle scenes. In some cases the extras were regular soldiers from the Reichswehr, who were thus given the opportunity to take part in military exercises, albeit in historical uniforms. This idea had stemmed from Lohmann.
When film extras received military training and soldiers were disguised as film extras, it would seem that the film project launched by the Naval Department under Captain Lohmann had touched on matters which the Reichstag delegates, let alone the ordinary taxpayers, had not envisioned. Early in the 1920s the heads of the Reichswehr were already trying to circumvent the harsh provisions of the Treaty of Versailles by any means, legal or illegal. Under this treaty the German forces were restricted to 100,000 fighting men and were denied the use of battleships, submarines, heavy guns, tanks, and bombers. Allied commissions carried out inspections to ensure that the provisions were observed. But the heads of the Reichswehr were extremely adept at evading such restrictions. The regular army was highly trained, and work was carried out secretly-long before Hitler came to power- on the development of new weapons systems, some of which were probably even manufactured and tested. Germany also had an agreement with Russia, which remained in force for several years, whereby German officers were sent to work as inspectors for the Red Army and in the course of their duties, in which they instructed Russian soldiers, acquainted themselves with postwar developments in weapon techniques.
Although nobody knew when German rearmament would come, its theoretical basis was being worked out in complete detail. Battleships, seaplanes, mines, and torpedoes were designed, and special naval units tested their efficiency. Secret information on the military strength of foreign powers, on new inventions, and on technical improvements were collected and evaluated with great urgency. Further, the navy was creating fictitious firms, sham organizations which were used as covers for naval projects. For example, at Neustadt, on the Baltic, a sailing school had been set up, ostensibly to teach young people sailing and navigation. In fact, the "school" was training naval crews for a speedboat flotilla. Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was not allowed to own speedboats. Consequently, these speedboats were built by the Italians and "tested" on the Baltic. And, of course, the Naval Department was also running shipping concerns; it had a fleet of tankers on the Atlantic routes. Although these ships sailed under a private flag, they were available to the German Navy at a moment's notice. This was another enterprise in which Lohmann was intimately involved and when the Phoebus films affair came to a head, the Ministry of Defense, fearing further exposures, disposed of its fleet of tankers. Since the ministry had to act as quickly and quietly as possible, the ships were simply thrown onto the market, fetching far less than they were really worth.
Lohmann's hurried departure caused great confusion in the internal affairs of the Naval Department, as in the case of the sale of the oil tankers. A neutral Hamburg shipowner who was chosen to investigate the transactions and clarify the situation soon gave up. So too did Rear Admiral Oldekopp, when he was asked to prepare a full report on the case. Too many aspects of this complex affair were secret. Nameless subordinates had skilfully exploited the brief vacuum Lohmann's downfall had created.
The Naval Department ran other firms as well. The Bacon Company, for example, was a disguised naval supply depot which catered for the soldiers of the "Schwarzen Reichswehr." Finally there was the DEVELEV or Deutsche Velasquez Evaporato Studiengesellschaft GmbH, an international concern which was ac actually founded after the Phoebus scandal. This company- which was named after the Spaniard Velasquez who invented the evaporator used in the distillation of gasoline from crude petroleum-carried out technical experiments for military research. Influential civilians-e.g., bank directors, senators, judges, and industrialists-were of course also involved in these secret operations.
When Lohmann first found that he was getting into difficulties, he sent me the birth data of virtually all the important people working for him at that time, and I cast brief horoscopes of them for him. The copies are still in my files. To the contemporary reader these firms, which Lohmann ran in the late 1920s, may well seem fantastic. But they were anything but fantasies. A few years ago the Hamburg daily Die Welt published an article on the whole Lohmann affair. Commenting on the firms which Lohmann had founded, the correspondent wrote, "He was never able to give a credible explanation for them." Lohmann could have given that explanation, but he would have had to expose the whole network of German and foreign firms involved in these activities.
My connection with Lohmann brought me many astrological commissions, most of which had to be executed in a great hurry; I always received an appropriate fee for my services, and for the first time in my life I was able to maintain myself from my earnings as an astrologer. Still, Lohmann took up so much of my time that for weeks on end I was obliged to give up any other work. My astrological documents for the few years Lohmann was my client fill a row of box-files.
Walter Lohmann was a zealous supporter of the ancien régime in Germany, a man who had absolutely nothing in common with the fascist hooligans of the time. He was the exact opposite of Herbert Volck. But he was convinced that his manifold plans and activities would help restore the old social and political order. This may well have been his crucial weakness. He was a patriot who believed that Germany was destined to re-enter the field of international politics and, once there, to play its part as a great military power. Consequently, it was not at all difficult for him to do what was required of him in his capacity as a staff officer and head of intelligence: to promote the illegal rearmament of his country while camouflaging it from the inquisitive eyes of foreign agents.
Although the foreign press scarcely mentioned the Phoebus scandal or Lohmann's dismissal, it was certainly noted in other quarters abroad that Lohmann, a man with such extensive connections, had become "available." Lohmann did have many friends in foreign countries. Lord Beaverbrook, for example, often invited him for talks. At the end of October, 1928, an English industrialist suddenly appeared in Berlin and offered Lohmann the German agency rights for a new type of coal-dust fuel which he had patented. This man, John Hamilton, had worked with Lohmann immediately following the armistice, when they had both been engaged in the repatriation of prisoners of war. He now offered him a livelihood which would enable him to continue to exploit his foreign connections in the interests of the Naval Department. And this was just the first of many new enterprises in which Lohmann became involved. Shortly afterward he negotiated industrial and arms deals for a Swiss firm and handled engineering patents in Italy, Spain, and the Balkans. As a result of these activities, he acquired knowledge of new technical developments which the Naval Department found extremely useful.
Although no longer a member of the German intelligence service, Lohmann still felt a bond of loyalty, and so passed on any information which he received. The dangers in the life of an international trade representative and lobbyist are sometimes just as great as those of the head of an intelligence department. It was in Lohmann's nature to become embroiled in strange adventures.
In 1929 Lohmann entered into negotiations with a group of Italian financiers. Under discussion was the design, construction, and testing of very large military aircraft. Since it was proposed to employ German technicians on the construction work and since this was forbidden under the Treaty of Versailles, the project was to be passed off as a harmless commercial development program. A second project discussed at that time was the construction of two new fast steamers. The building contracts for these vessels were to be placed with the German yards by the Italian government.
On his way home from the initial negotiations in Milan, at the end of October, 1929, Lohmann wrote to me from Lugano, where he had broken off his journey to stay with relatives for reasons of safety, as well as health. Lohmann suspected that his mail was being opened, and so he corresponded with me by courier. In his letter he told me that he had conducted successful discussions with Mussolini and his Minister of Aviation, Balbo, on October 4, 5, and 6, 1929, the dates I had recommended in my electional chart.* The Italian government, he said, had found his project good in theory and, from a political and technical point of view, very good. But Mussolini wanted the necessary capital to be raised by private enterprise and asked that everything should be kept secret until the finances had been arranged. In Lohmann's next letter he wrote, "Berthold [in correspondence we always referred to Balbo as Berthold] is as interested as ever, if not more so, and sent me to see certain big financiers in Milan, Turin, and Genoa, with whom I am now negotiating; it is very hard going. I am due to report back to Mussolini on the situation in Rome on Wednesday evening…." Subsequently, when I sent him his new horoscope for 1930, he remarked, "My horoscope is not exactly rosy! The stomach trouble arrived on time to the day but has now cleared up.... I am living in Rome, Hotel Majestic." The airship company was floated shortly afterward. Lohmann became the Italian representative of the Schütte-Lanz works in Mannheim, a post which enabled him to continue his political work-from behind the scenes, of course-for the German Naval Department.
* A so-called electional horoscope is used to choose a propitious time for an undertaking. Electional astrology, very common in the seventeenth century, is rarely used today.
But then I heard that Lohmann's chief Italian associate, Signor Civelli, had died following a severe haemorrhage. Lohmann was deeply shocked. He wrote to me from the Tyrol: "I am quite dispirited by the loss of this man who was in charge of the airship project. Everything seems to be going wrong… I find no peace here and am driven on by a feeling of restlessness." And so Lohmann rushed from project to project.
Finally he tried to set up the Holland-Batavia Airline, a tripartite venture among the Italians, the Germans, and the Spanish, with the object of testing the large aircraft then in course of development. It was a magnificent idea, and it seemed now as if Lohmann, who had always had any number of different plans going at the same time, had at last succeeded in evolving a single, all-embracing project. The Phoebus scandal had evidently done him little harm; he was still regarded as a man of intelligence and imagination. Mussolini wanted to use the first of the new large aircraft for the nonstop transatlantic formation flight. The technical arrangements for this project were left to the Germans and-since Italy's financial resources were limited-Holland was asked to provide the backing. Hence the inoffensive and highly misleading name of the Holland-Batavia Airline.
But after Civelli's death, it soon became apparent that the Italian Aviation Minister, Balbo, was virtually sabotaging the project. The reasons for this were no doubt largely personal. Lohmann had been asked by Mussolini to take charge of the production program for the new large aircraft and to organize the Atlantic crossing. The ambitious Balbo could not bear to see a former German officer preferred in this way. Relations between Balbo and Lohmann also appear to have been clouded by a beautiful woman who figured in our correspondence as Clara Maria Thirty-Three. She knew both Mussolini and Balbo very well and was also a friend of Lohmann's, who thought her reliable and trustworthy. In fact, she was neither. When she appeared on the scene, Lohmann entered on the last tragic phase of his turbulent and unhappy life.
I was first told about Clara Maria at a time when I myself was caught up in an extremely unpleasant situation. Volck's bomb trial had just started, and I was being subjected to malicious attacks in the daily press. Lohmann wrote to me, "I am told that my letters are reaching you without mishap … That is a great relief. Please make sure that the names do not fall into the wrong hands." Our courier, Frau von Lerche-Igelstein, had already taken the necessary precautions.
Clara Maria Thirty-Three had a magnificently appointed salon in Rome and moved behind the scenes of Italian politics with the skill of a true vamp. Lohmann had asked me to compare both Clara Maria's and Balbo's horoscopes with his own. He told me Clara Maria's birthdate-she had been born prematurely in 1900, on a train traveling from Italy to Strasbourg. My analysis revealed catastrophic influences. At the end of April, 1930, Lohmann came to Hamburg for a personal consultation and was due to return to Rome the following day. When he left me, he said, "The way you have been warning me on this occasion, anyone would think this were my last journey!" I begged him to postpone his departure but to no avail. Frau von Lerche-Igelstein and another friend accompanied Lohmann to the station. On their way there he told them about his consultation: "This time Wulff spoke very strangely, 'You will never see Berlin again if you go to Rome now.' I suppose he is trying to prevent me from visiting these 'dangerous' people."
Lohmann went to Rome. As arranged, he met Clara Maria Thirty-Three in her splendid apartment and spent the night of April 29-30 with her. He did not live to see the morning-he had fallen into a trap set for him by Balbo. Clara Maria and her chauffeur are supposed to have brought him back to his hotel, where a doctor was called to where Lohmann lay in agony. All the doctor could do for him was establish the cause of death: heart failure. But the circumstances surrounding Lohmann's death were never cleared up. The plans and instructions for the transatlantic flight which he had brought with him had disappeared from his luggage. One thousand reichsmarks were found in his briefcase, but it was a known fact that on that particular day Lohmann had been carrying 30,000 reichsmarks. Twenty-nine thousand marks had vanished without trace, and Clara Maria Thirty-Three was soon being hunted by the Italian and German police.
Lohmann's wife went to Rome at once. When she asked to see her husband's body, she was handed a small casket containing his ashes. Somebody had ordered his immediate cremation; it seems likely that this was in order to wipe out traces of poison. Clara Maria, the probable culprit, had fled abroad. She had been Lohmann's agent, Balbo's accomplice, and Mussolini's friend. She had probably also been the mistress of all three. Although Captain Lohmann's plans had disappeared, Balbo was able to carry out the transatlantic flight shortly afterward and took all the credit for himself. But he was not to enjoy the fruits of his victory. When he heard of Lohmann's death, Mussolini launched a vigorous investigation which gradually shed light on the whole affair. It discovered that Clara Maria Thirty-Three had extended her "friendship" to Lohmann and Balbo, as well as to himself. Balbo was then relieved of his post as Minister of Aviation and posted to Tripoli as provincial governor.
Captain Lohmann's fate, which was so clearly outlined in his horoscope, bears out the dictum of an ancient Chinese sage: "The course of a man's life, once decreed by destiny, cannot be arrested by human calculations."