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Although Richard Deacon’s stated belief that Reilly’s Japanese intelligence contact was Col. Akashi Motojiro is not supported by Akashi’s own records,19 a letter written by Reilly to an unknown correspondent simply referred to as ‘ECF’, on 3 December 1902, does clearly suggest that he did have an interest and knowledge of intelligence matters at this time:

The Manchu’s are finished. It is only a matter of time before China becomes the playground of the great powers. Their intelligence service, such as it is, for all practical purposes simply does not exist. But I should warn you that in this vacuum which is left a new and much more dangerous Secret Service will eventually spring up. Today it is like a sperm in the womb. Tomorrow? Perhaps a fully fledged child.20

Although not stated openly in the letter, the ‘sperm in the womb’ can only mean the Japanese Secret Service, who had a growing network of agents in Manchuria at this time to help them gauge Russian intentions. Britain was also keeping a watching brief on developments in the area through its Military and Naval Intelligence Departments with a view to her future policy. Her first preference would have been an agreement with the Russians to preserve the status quo in the region. Unable to achieve this objective, Britain concluded a treaty with Japan in January 1902, by which she hoped to achieve the next best thing. At the time of the treaty, the Japanese had six capital ships, Russia six, France six and Britain four. Under the treaty, Britain or Japan would come to the other’s aid in the event of one of them being at war with more than one of the other great powers. Should Japan be unable to get the Russians to come to some agreement concerning their ongoing expansionism, the treaty would at least now make it possible for Japan to contemplate war with Russia as a last resort, in the full knowledge that the French would be kept in check by the British.

Understandably, Britain took a greater degree of interest after the treaty and particularly as tensions between the Russians and the Japanese were seen to be heightening. War Office Military Intelligence records confirm that in 1903, ‘the first four officers were sent to Japan as language students’.21 The thrust of Britain’s intelligence gathering was therefore through the armed forces, although this is not to discount information picked up by diplomatic posts and newspaper correspondents. Russian espionage files, for example, refer to a Daily Telegraph correspondent in Manchuria, a retired lieutenant colonel, Joseph Newman, who appears to have been well connected within the European business community.22 He would, more than likely, have relayed back anything of interest he had heard and could well have come across Reilly during his stint in Manchuria. Whoever Reilly was supplying information to, it was certainly not the Russians. While not expecting to lose any future conflict with Japan, they were certainly sensitive to Japanese efforts to obtain information about Port Arthur and were keen to keep a watchful eye on those suspected of being foreign spies, particularly among the European residents of Port Arthur. Comprehensive records still exist in Moscow, providing a wealth of detail about the numerous agents they themselves were running in Port Arthur and in the region generally.23 Reilly’s name is nowhere to be seen.

When the inevitable conflict between Russia and Japan broke out into open hostility on 8 February 1904, it was as a result of a surprise Japanese attack against the Russian Pacific fleet at Port Arthur. With no declaration of war prior to the attack, it bore many of the hallmarks that would characterise the assault on the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor some thirty-six years later. Although the attack on Pearl Harbor was carried out in daylight by air and the attack on Port Arthur was at night by torpedo boats, the theory behind both acts of war was the same. The Japanese had calculated that the only possible way they could defeat a larger and theoretically stronger power was by attacking without warning and in so doing striking a blow from which the enemy would have great difficulty recovering.

As a result of superior intelligence, Japan’s Admiral Togo was not only aware of the positions of all Russian ships but was equally aware of the layout of Russian minefields and search-light locations. This enabled the Japanese to move through the minefields unhindered and to emerge from the darkness unseen by Port Arthur’s search lights, which on the night of the attack were mysteriously disabled. Although Togo’s attack succeeded in crippling the Russian Pacific fleet, it was not until 1 January 1905 that the Japanese actually captured the port. Neither side had foreseen the lengthy siege of Port Arthur and the Japanese in particular were not prepared for a winter campaign. Although ultimately victorious, 58,000 Japanese lives were lost in comparison to the 31,000 Russians who perished defending the town.

Credit for Togo’s initial attack on Port Arthur, which was one of the most brilliantly conceived and co-ordinated assaults ever undertaken, was very much the result of the advance intelligence operation which enabled him to access Russian defence plans. How he managed to obtain these has been shrouded in mystery for nearly a century. When the US army, led by Gen. MacArthur, arrived in Japan in August 1945, it set about examining Japanese intelligence records. A large consignment of material was taken away by MacArthur’s intelligence chief, Gen. Willoughby, and sent to Washington for detailed analysis. Students of the Russo- Japanese War hoped that here at last would be revealed the answer to the mystery. Sadly, no hint as to the identity of the agent who procured the plans for Togo was ever found in the records, copies of which now reside in America’s National Archives in Washington DC. As a result, it was widely assumed that the solution to the riddle had been lost or destroyed.

In Moscow’s Military Historical Archives 6,000 miles away, however, a dusty file of intelligence reports finally exposes the Russians’ number-one suspect. The file, not seen by unauthorised eyes before the downfall of Soviet communism, contains a report from April 1904 addressed to ‘His Excellency the Commandant of Port Arthur’ and marked ‘Secret’.24 In it, the conclusions of an in-depth investigation into the theft of harbour defence plans are revealed, and the culprit named as one Ho-Liang-Shung, a Chinese engineer who worked under the Head Marine Architect, Svirsky. Ho-Liang-Shung had a detailed knowledge of the harbour, its fortifications and mine field. He also had access to the harbour defence plans. According to the report, he had prior knowledge of the Japanese attack as early as 26 January 1904. On 23 February and again on 8 March, large sums of money were deposited into his bank account. On 10 April he attempted to leave without an exit permit and was detained by the port gendarme. In spite of this, he managed to escape confinement and was never seen again.

While convinced of Ho’s guilt, the Russians were clearly of the view that he had not acted alone and was very much a minor player in a wider web. The identity of his ‘go-between’, the person to whom he had given the plans and who had paid the money into his bank account, was never established. Intriguingly, some twenty-seven years later, when Margaret Reilly wrote a manu-script about her husband’s life, she referred in passing to a port engineer acquaintance he had known in Port Arthur – ‘Ho-Ling-Chung’.25 While the spellings are at variance, the chances of there being two engineers with such similar names, moving in similar circles, must be viewed as somewhat remote. Bearing in mind the intimate relationship between Ginsburg & Company and the Pacific fleet, it is highly probable that Reilly would have come into regular contact with port and naval officials at all levels. In fact, many of the naval contacts he utilised in later years were initially made during his time in Port Arthur.

Reilly and Ho are further linked by their mutual disappearance, for shortly after Ho’s escape, Reilly too departed. In 1917 Moisei Ginsburg recalled that Reilly had ‘suddenly vanished’, leading the local Russians to conclude that he was a spy.26 Winfried Ludecke and Richard Deacon have both maintained that Reilly concluded the Russians had their suspicions about him after discovering someone associated with East-Asiatic was in the employ of Russian intelligence.27 This theory again finds corroboration in Moscow archives, which reveal that one of Russia’s most valuable espionage finds was a British citizen by the name of Horace Collins who indeed happened to work for the East-Asiatic Company. Collins was born on 12 March 1870 in Hever, Kent.28 His father was a well-to-do farmer, and Horace grew up working with horses, eventually taking up an apprenticeship as a jockey at the nearby Lingfield stables. On completion of his apprenticeship in 1893 he went to the Far East, where he eventually secured a job at the stables of the Japanese Emperor. It was during this period that he learnt to speak Japanese and a Chinese language. Although moderately successful as a jockey, it was not long before he took to business, making the most of his oriental languages and travelling widely on behalf of various trading houses in China, Korea, Japan and eastern Russia.



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