A highly decorated British flying ace spied for Japan in the years leading up to the outbreak of the second world war, papers declassified today reveal.
Frederick Rutland, who won the Distinguished Service Order for daring low-level attacks on German cruisers during the Battle of Jutland in 1916, was initially recruited by Japan as an adviser on naval flying techniques.
Papers released at the Public Record Office also show Japanese naval intelligence paid him to set up a spy base in Hawaii years before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941.
Rutland first came to the notice of MI5 in 1922 when he suddenly decided to end his glittering career and resign from the RAF. The agency received what it called “reliable information” from a “very delicate source” – known only as BJ – that the Japanese had secret talks with Rutland.
MI5 noted that Rutland possessed “unique knowledge of aircraft carriers and deck landings”.
GCHQ, which had already broken Japanese naval codes, intercepted a string of communications to and from Japan’s naval attache in London and naval intelligence headquarters in Tokyo.
They paint a picture of an ineffective businessman and spy who continually haggled over money and expenses. In the 1920s he sailed with his wife and child to Japan where he apparently failed to land a job with Mitsubishi.
“Shinkawa” – Rutland’s code name – later travelled to the US. Intriguingly, given how the US was so surprised by Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, the intercepts reveal that in 1935 Rutland told his Japanese spymasters that “everyone” he met in America “thinks a war with Japan is inevitable, many even say it will be their way out of a depression”.
The intercepts note that Tokyo had paid Rutland to set up a “small agency in Hawaii”. A horrified MI6 – Britain’s secret intelligence service which operates abroad – discovered that Rutland had come to the attention of the US authorities.
MI6 warned of the “scandal which would be caused by the arrest of a former Air Force officer on charges of espionage …” MI5 made it clear that, in its view, Rutland should be arrested.
There was no doubt that Rutland was a “paid agent of the Japanese”, said a report signed by AF Blunt – the MI5 officer Anthony Blunt, who was later knighted for his work as surveyor of the Queen’s pictures and exposed as a Soviet agent in 1979.
Rutland saved everyone’s embarrassment by returning to Britain where he was quietly interned in 1941.
The next story will be about Lord Sempill – a British Lord and naval officer whose activities were known and covered up by Sir Winston Churchill. Sempill also had early contact with the Japanese.