The real James Bond superspy modeled from Ian Fleming.
Georgi Rosenblum was born in Poland or Odessa from conflicting accounts, on 24th March 1874. His parents were Jewish, and his father a wealthy landowner, his mother a pianist.
Details of his education are uncertain. Nevertheless, He had an exceptional command of languages, including English, Russian, Polish, German, and French.”
Rosenblum fled Russia, appearing in Brazil in his late teens
for reasons that remain obscure. No less obscure are the next two decades of his life where he claimed to having been a
cook, a dockworker, a railway engineer in India and a brothel doorman.
Reilly used to tell people… whilst working as a cook for a party of English explorers, the party were attacked by cannibals, Reilly saved the day. The leader of the party awarded him $1,500 and a British passport. He was also said to have worked as a spy for the Japanese government.
None are verified and perhaps a cloak of deception manufactured by him to simply sow confusion for the benefit of his exploits.
3 years after Arriving in London in 1895 he married Margaret Thomas, a governess and the widow of the Revd Hugh Thomas. The 63-year-old reverend suffered from Bright’s disease, and Reilly personally prescribed his medication. Thomas died of heart failure. Because of his pre-existing condition, the police did not look much further into the matter as the symptoms of arsenic poisoning are quite similar to those of Bright’s disease, and it’s likely that Reilly actually murdered Thomas. Soon after he changed his name to became Sidney George Reilly. With his strong Jewish features and accented English, Reilly was an unconvincing Englishman, but this became his favourite of many alternative identities, as he possessed passports in eleven different names.
Although based in London, Reilly spent most of his time in the Far East where he was working as a double-agent serving both the British and the Japanese. In 1906 he moved to St Petersburg, where he became friendly with members of the revolutionary underground. It is believed that as well as working for the British, he was also spying for the Tsarist regime being well-paid, he had a lavish apartment in St Petersburg, a splendid art collection and was a member of the most exclusive club in the city.
Reilly, a self-proclaimed narcissist developed a reputation for womanising having a seductive charm where many mistresses fell under his spell. His exacting choice of women where monogamy was not his chosen lifestyle, often resorted to him visiting common tarts.
He was well known to MI6 as a reliable candidate to get a job spying at a German naval ship-builder yard enabling him to copy all blueprints and specifications of the latest German naval construction…. to pass onto MI6.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Reilly went to new York as a war contractor buying arms supplies for the Russians where his ruthless business tactics earned him a fortune and many enemies, but remained in contact with `C`, Mansfield Cumming, head of operations at MI6.
In 1917, Reilly was smuggled into Germany and was given the task of discovering how close the country was to defeat. Reilly a man of great courage… coupled with a somewhat unscrupulous temperament, made him a double-edged tool as a man that impressed, with a sense of power.
Later that year, Reilley joined the Royal Canadian Flying Corp as a second lieutenant for dubious reasons and was rarely seen in active service. Returning to England Cummings (`C`) knew how good Reilly was as a spy and engaged him to venture once again into Russia. He was known to have made enormous amounts of money by corruption in Russia where many considered him untrustworthy and unsuitable. But he was known to be a shrewd businessman of undoubted ability but without patriotism or principles, where these unprincipled values were used to further his own commercial interests. However, Winston Churchill supported Reilly’s recruitment into MI6 indicating that he had a remarkable personal charisma and flair for intelligence work.
In April 1918, Reilly was sent to Russia to join a team that included Robert Bruce Lockhart, the acting British Consul-General, The main objective of this group was to bring about the overthrow of the Bolshevik government. Reilly had a passionate hatred for communism as its leaders were assassins, gunmen, secret, ferocious, and menacing, (ironically not unlike Reilly himself).
Many complex events occurred during the build-up of fund raising and double plotting with the Bolshevik’s, the White Army and several subversive elements who wanted to see the end of Lenin and impose their own dubious will on the Russian people. Millions of Roubles and British currency were used and exchanged for buying power and favour.
Plans were made to arrest at gunpoint all the leading Bolsheviks including Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin as the big 3, at a grand alliance meeting in August 1918, but postponed for 10 days. Reilly intended to de-bag the Bolshevik hierarchy and with Lenin and Trotsky in front, to march them through the streets of Moscow bereft of trousers They would then be imprisoned. Reilly maintained that it was better to destroy them by ridicule than to make martyrs of the Bolshevik leaders by shooting them.” Reilly’s plan was eventually rejected, and it was decided to execute the entire leadership of the Bolshevik Party.
Finally, the meeting took place and unknown to Reilly and Lockhart an attempt on Lenin’s life was made by a young activist Fanya Kaplan. 3 shots were fired at Lenin, but he survived. Orders were issued to round up the agents based in the British Embassy in Petrograd. The naval attaché, Francis Cromie was killed resisting arrest but not without a gallant fight to the end with a Browning in each hand he had killed a commissar and wounded several Cheka thugs, before falling himself riddled with Red bullets. Kicked and trampled on, his body was thrown out of the second-floor window.
Lockhart was arrested at the siege but Sidney Reilly had a lucky escape whilst gaining access to millions of Pounds from the British Embassy safe. Reilly went into hiding to be smuggled out of Russia.
Reilly was contrite as he thought that the Russian state should not lose his services. He should devote the rest of his life to the salvation of Russia which had become a sacred duty he owed to the thousands of Russians who had sacrificed their lives because of the trust placed in the British Government. Remember Reilly was Russian born and educated.
Arriving back in London November 1918. Mansfield Smith-Cumming, the head of MI6 was pleased with the information smuggled out of Russia and arranged for him to receive the Military Cross. He was then instructed to return on a dangerous mission to Russia which would lead to execution if caught, to assess the prospects of the White Army against the Red Army in the Russian Civil War.
After Reilly’s successful spying mission to Russia, the results were blunted due to the Allies making poor progress from their invasion at Archangel and linking up with the White Army East of Moscow. Within 2 years of the landings, the whole project was cancelled as the appetite for further war was seen by the allies as an anathema to the public and it was doubtful, they would win a war with Red Russia.
In 1921 Reilly became a business adviser to a British army commander who had the favour of Churchill in foreign business ventures in Eastern Europe where Reilly had wide experience. However, several business ventures instigated by Reilly were unsuccessful and in 1922, he was sacked.
Reilly continued to take a close interest in events in Russia. A fake anti Bolshevik secret group …`The Trust`….. was set up by the Bolsheviks with the object namely to lure Reilly back to Russia to implement a previous sentence of death for his part in the attempted removal of the fledgling Communisis party in 1918.
He spent many months selling his own art collection and gaining funds from Henry Ford in America for the benefit of `The Trust’ fake campaign to remove Lenin from power.
In the meantime, Reilly`s close Russian pal was lured back to Russia, arrested then sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to 10 years for internal and international reasons with Western powers, but shortly after the sentence, he allegedly jumped out of a window to his death…or was he pushed to make it look like suicide as was announced by the Russian. Reilly was incensed.
However, other sources claim that he was killed when attempting to cross the Russian frontier after a searching mock trial, was staged by the Russian secret Police in Moscow behind closed doors.
Eventually Reilly was lured back into Russia to investigate the power and ability of `The Trust` on the basis that a Russian double agent persuaded Reilly that `The Trust `was an anti-Bolshevik movement. He was still bent on destroying the Bolsheviks and more so to avenge the murder of his co agent and friend. Reilly was double crossed which led to his death.
Crossing the Finnish border in September 1925 he had a meeting with `The Trust` where later he was arrested by the Russian secret police. As Reilly was tried some years ago in absentia it was clear now that he had been trapped and lured back to the fake anti Bolshevik and that he would be executed because of his attempts to overthrow the Bolshevik government in 1918. An appeal was made to Stalin in exchange for information on the western economy…but Stalin refused.
The life of this incredible and arguable character of 3 wives and more Bond girls than James himself, was on a knife edge of his life.
Reilly was driven to the Sokoliniki district for exercise, which was one of his special privileges. But the car stopped, ostensibly so the driver could fix a mechanical problem. Reilly was allowed to get out and stretch his legs. He made it about thirty paces from the car before he was shot.
The Russian government examined and photographed his body before burying him in a pit at the prison. The execution was carried out on 5th. November 1925.
Sidney Reilly after his execution in 1925.
Though the British government knew that Reilly had likely been killed, they had found no evidence of his execution.
Reilly left behind an incredible legacy that weaves together both fact and fiction. His spirit of adventure and intrigue survives on the pages of Ian Fleming’s beloved James Bond books.
The total truth about Reilly may never be known. But he was undeniably the ace of spies and one who will never be trumped. And Ian Fleming spoke nothing less than the sober truth when he said:
”James Bond is just a piece of nonsense” (compared with Sidney Reilly). Ian Fleming
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