Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Real James Bond

Affluence, Influence and Intrigue

Sidney Reilly false passport
Sidney Reilly false passport

The year 1914 marked the beginning of World War I and Germany's massive campaign against Russia. By the end of the summer, German troops annihilated more than half of the Russian 2nd Army, a catastrophe that provided Reilly with his "big chance, not only to make the millions he dreamed of but also to make his mark on history," Cook said. Reilly got his start by acting as a broker between the Russian army and Japanese and American arms and munitions manufacturers, the latter being the primary suppliers of military equipment at the time. On every sale, he made enormous commissions, which eventually added up to millions of dollars. 

Things seemed to be going extremely well for Reilly, especially in his love life. In February 1915, Reilly married long-time lover Nadine (Nadezhda) Zalessky, 29, a Jewish Ukrainian national of Swiss ancestry who was considered to be a great intellect and beauty. Reilly was charmed not only by her physique and intellect but also by her close ties with prominent Russian officials, which would prove beneficial in his line of work.

Royal Flying Corps pin
Royal Flying Corps pin

Even though the marriage was bigamous, which Nadine knew nothing about, it didn't seem to faze Reilly in the least. In fact, it was believed to be his second bigamous marriage. Reilly's first was thought to have taken place sometime around 1905 to a woman named Anna, although no documentation exists that such a marriage ever took place.

At the time of his marriage to Nadine, Reilly was working in New York City as managing officer for the Allied Machinery Company on Broadway, which supplied munitions, machine parts and other goods to allied forces. He remained in New York until 1917 when he left his wife and traveled to Toronto, Canada where he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Reilly later stated that he enlisted in the RFC because he wanted to do his part for the war effort.

Mansfield Cumming
Mansfield Cumming

Reilly trained at the School of Military Aeronautics in Toronto before getting posted in England. During this time, the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) was conducting an intensive investigation of Reilly. Their main objective was to determine if he was the man they were looking for to help them gather intelligence in Russia. At the time, the Bolshevik Party, headed by Vladimir Lenin, had just seized control of the government and was looking to form a peaceful relationship with the Germans, which was precisely what Britain and her allies didn't want.

The head of the SIS, Captain Mansfield Cumming — known as 'C' — personally interviewed Reilly and must have liked what he heard. By March 1918, 'C's' new informant was given the all clear and the code name ST1 before being sent off to Russia. It would be Reilly's first SIS mission and one of his most daring. 

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