The Unmasking of Klop Ustinov, Secret Agent

Jona Von Ustinov or Ustinoff (1892-1962) was the father of Peter Ustinov (1921-2004), the actor and playwright. His widow, the former Nadia Benois a theatrical designer, wrote a biography Klop and the Ustinov Family (1973) in which she revealed that Jona hated his given name and after their marriage, he was always known as 'Klop', the name for a bedbug in Russian. It was a decidedly unusual name but its significance would evade the 'Weeder' who reviewed the MI5 files prior to release into the National Archives.

Klop's father was Russian, his mother German and he served as an officer in the German Army in WWI, winning an Iron Cross. After getting married, he landed a job in London as a journalist with the Wolff Bureau, which later became known as the German News Agency. He and his wife came to England in 1920 and Peter was born the following year. They soon made many friends in Embassy and theatrical circles and Klop developed a sideline as an art dealer.

Klop ran into trouble with the German News Agency in 1935 when he had to prove his Aryan descent. He refused, being aware that his Ethiopian grandmother would not satisfy the Nazi criteria. This led to a parting of the ways but, fortunately, one of his friends introduced him to 'a prominent personality from one of the Ministries'.

Klop's new job was 'very hush-hush' and he held the job until his retirement in 1957 at the age of 65. Nadia declined to reveal more because Klop 'would not have liked it' and he often got angry whenever others disclosed their secret activities.

In his autobiography Dear Me (1977), Peter Ustinov revealed that the 'prominent personality from one of the Ministries' was Robert Vansittart, a top Foreign Office mandarin. During the Thirties, Vansittart ran his own 'private' Intelligence Service focused on Germany. It was private in the sense that Vansittart's agents worked separately from MI6, Britain's official Secret Service.

Peter recalled that on arriving home from school one day in 1938, he was hustled off to the cinema. As he was making his exit, he passed a procession of elderly visitors heading for his parents' flat. When he returned home, he realised that the meeting had not yet finished so he discreetly sneaked off to bed.

Years later, Peter asked his father about the incident and he learned that the visitors included General Geyr von Schweppenburg, the military attaché at the German Embassy in London. Von Schweppenburg's party had been on a mission to urge Britain 'to stand firm in Munich'. Von Schweppenburg, who later became a famous Panzer General, related this vain attempt to put some steel into Chamberlain in his Memoirs.

On another occasion, Peter was able to identify a second visitor as Major Richard H. Stevens, one of the two MI6 officers kidnapped on 9 November 1939 by the Sicherheitsdienst (the Nazi Security Service), whilst trying to negotiate a peace deal in the Netherlands. This has become known as the 'Venlo Incident'.

In his diaries published in 1971, Alexander Cadogan the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, made frequent references to 'V' (Vansittart) and 'K' (Klop). The Editor had no problem in identifying Vansittart but he was unable to get a fix on Klop.

Guy Liddell, a senior MI5 officer, made many references to U35 in his diaries and on 14 September 1939, he noted that U35's 'Special Source' and his servant are arriving in the country today. He then speculated how they could compensate for the loss of 'P'.

'P' is evidently Wolfgang Zu Putlitz because in The Putlitz Dossier (1957), the author tells the same story in more detail from his own perspective as the spy who had to do a runner. Zu Putlitz identifies the man who organised his getaway as 'Paul X'. He also named Paul X in his Preface 'with deep gratitude'. Others mentioned in the Preface include Vansittart and the infamous Anthony Blunt, the MI5 Officer who doubled as a Soviet spy. Zu Putlitz had served in the German Embassy in London before moving to The Hague, from where he had made his hurried getaway.

On 29 December 1940, Guy Liddell noted in his diary that he'd had a discussion with U35 'about Vera'. The Index to Liddell's diary shows that he was referring to Vera Erikson (spellings vary). On 7 January 1940, U35 met the DG [Director General] 'to talk about Vera'. On 29 January, the proposal was to get Vera to Aylesbury [Prison] on Sunday and to U35's on Tuesday'. On 6 February, 'the Vera case is going on well'. Liddell and U35 dined together on 8 February 'when Vera's case was discussed'. But when they dined again on 16 February, 'Vera had gone back to Aylesbury … She had done her best'.

Vera Erikson was the only woman among seven German would-be spies who landed in three different locations in Britain during September 1940. Looking and behaving exactly as German spies were supposed to look and behave, they were quickly arrested and imprisoned. They were all conveyed to Latchmere House, MI5's Interrogation Centre at Ham Common, where inducements were offered to persuade them to become double agents. All the men refused and they were tried on charges under the Treachery Act. Five were found guilty and were executed; the sixth was acquitted but he was immediately interned.

Vera evidently enjoyed her brief stay with U35 because her letter of thanks has survived:


Dear Klop

I have been very happy staying with you both and I hope the time will come when we shall meet again under more normal circumstances.


The Crown Jewels by Nigel West (1998) also reveals that MI5's Anthony Blunt had referred to 'Ustinoff or U35' in a report to his Soviet spymasters. Therefore, there is no possible doubt that Klop Ustinov worked for Robert Vansittart's private Intelligence Service in the Thirties and that he later joined MI5, where his code name was U35.