Although Spain remained neutral in World War I, Madrid, Barcelona and the country’s ports were nonetheless clandestine proxy battlefields for the espionage services of the Allied and Central Powers. Here the belligerents waged a ruthless war of terror, sabotage and black propaganda in which agents of each country pursued their national interests no matter what the cost. This desperate secret struggle involved the subornation of the trade unions, the police and security services, murder, intimidation, gangsterism, sabotage, port and maritime blockades, submarine warfare, the supply of bellicose materiel, the spreading of insidious rumour and lies,etc., etc. Of particular interest to ChristieBooks in this story — because of their activities targeting the anarcho-syndicalist CNT on behalf of the Catalan employers’ associations — are the roles of police inspector Manuel Bravo Portillo of the Social Brigade, who was an asset of German Intelligence, and of the false Baron de König (referred to here as Baron Koening), a crook, boulevardier and agent of the French intelligence services until his death in mysterious circumstances in the immediate aftermath of WWII. The careers of these lowlifes we have explored at length previously in the three volumes of Pistoleros! The Chronicles of Farquhar McHarg (1 ; 2 ; 3 ) and The False Baron von König by Raymond Batkin
“The clandestine ‘dirty war’ fought on the streets of Barcelona in the immediate post-WWI years by the belligerent European powers was directly connected with the aggravated social and industrial tensions in the Catalan capital. Nor is there any doubt that some CNT union leaders, sponsored by the German secret service, actively targeted Allied interests, justifying their activities in the name of class struggle.
In an audience with Thierry, King Alfonso remarked on the venality of some CNT leaders:
“[…] once the libertarian syndicalists and French anarchists have broken and bewildered the labouring mass sufficiently, the Germans move in, taking over and orchestrating sabotage, or bringing to a standstill the industries that are working for you people.”
The French consul in Barcelona was more nuanced:
“Since the war I have seen a significant role ascribed to German propaganda across the various labour movements in the peninsula. I am not denying this is the case, but I do not regard it as decisive […] our enemies have bought many ‘leaders’ in Catalonia; their subsidies are behind many of the strikes that have led to such extensive disruption of the delivery of goods intended for the Allies.”