BuiltWithNOF
BIOGRAPHY

This page is a brief biography/chronology of ‘The Beautiful Spy’s’ life and career drawn from her MI5 case files (available in the Public Record Office, Kew).

DATE

EVENT

10 December 1912

Vera is born in Barnaul, Siberia - the daughter of an ex-patriot Dane father and a Polish-Ukrainian mother.

1918

The Schalburg family flees the Russian Revolution and settles in Denmark. Members of Vera’s mothers family were ‘massacred’ by the Bolsheviks.  The family buys a farm in Jutland.

1923-24

Vera’s elder brother, Christian Frederick joins the Danish Royal Guard. Vera and her parents move to Paris where Vera attends Trefilova’s ballet school.

1927

Vera tours England with Trefilova’s ballet company.

1929-30

Vera is now a caberet dancer.  She meets Sergei Ignatieff, a White Russian double agent and drug trafficker.  She becomes his mistress and courier, and eventually a drug addict.

1929-1932

Vera dances at the Folies Bergere & with the Russian Ballet at the Champs Elysee. All the while working for Ignatieff.

1930s

Vera’s brother Christian combines his military duties with a growing involvement in right-wing, nationalist politics. After 1933 he works for the Danish Nazi movement, later as a National Youth Leader. 

1936-37

Vera (probably) comes to the attention of MI6 in Paris as a possible Soviet agent. Around this time she attempts to break from Ignatieff who attempts to kill her.

1937

Vera discovers she is on the Gestapo’s black list because of her White Russian/Soviet contacts. She turns to her brother for help. Vera is recruited by the Abwehr a few months later - presumably because they want to use her to penetrate Soviet intelligence operations in France and Belgium.

1938

Vera works for the Abwehr without any notable success.

1939

Vera is sent to England to play femme fatale in a London ‘spy salon’.  The ‘salon’ is a joke, existing mostly only in the mind of her Hamburg minders. Her mission is further compromised by the fact she has a heroin habit. She meets and has an affair with a Major MacKenzie, who may or may not have links with Maxwell Knight (one of the men Ian Fleming based ‘M’ of James Bond fame upon).  At the outbreak of war Vera flees England without orders, and returns to her furious Hamburg controllers.

1939

Among miscellaneous affairs, Vera claimed to have married her Abwehr handler (Hilmar Dierks), around this time.

1940

Vera has fallen in love with Theo Drucke, one of Dierks’s agents.  There is talk of sending her to Spain. Then, as part of Operation Sealion, the Invasion of the UK, she becomes a ‘Lena Agent’ - to be sent to England to collect intelligence ahead of the invasion.  The mission is a shambles, thrown together by the Abwehr who had made virtually no preparations for it.

September 1940

Partying before their departure on the mission to England Hilmar Dierks is killed in a car crash. The mission is delayed for three weeks. Eventually Vera, Drucke and another agent, Werner Walti depart for Norway.

30 September 1940

The agents are flown to Scotland.  Vera is at this time pregnant, and has to be given a morphine injection to get her on the plane.  The spies are put ashore near Portgordon, where Vera and Drucke are quickly arrested.  Walti is arrested in Edinburgh.

October-December 1940

Vera and her accomplices are interrogated at Camp 020, MI5’s interrogation facility on Ham Common, Richmond.  Early in her captivity Vera miscarries.

June-July 1941

Drucke and Walti and tried and executed for treason. it is unclear why Vera didn’t join them on the scaffold.

February 1942

Vera is released from Holloway Prison for several days - she is debrief by MI5 agent U15 (Klop Ustinov - father of the actor, Peter) at his family home in Gloucestershire.  Afterwards Vera is sent to the Isle of Mann in the role of an MI5 mole to spy on fellow internees.

October 1945

Vera is allegedly sent back to Germany where, due to an administrative oversight she is allowed to disappear for ever.   Well, according to MI5, anyway...

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