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The Ruislip Home That Contained A Soviet Spy Ring

Thomas Devile   April 23, 2021

Take a trip to Cranley Drive in Ruislip, London today and nothing will seem out of the ordinary. This was also true in the late 1950s and early 1960s but, in fact, there were some important secrets being concealed within a property in this unassuming London suburb. A soviet spy ring was actually in operation at 45 Cranley Drive at the time, the details of which we will go into in this article.

The Home Of A Famous Spy Ring

This Ruislip home was indeed the setting of one of the most famous spy rings in history, the Portland spy ring. So, what was the Portland spy ring and who was involved? The notorious espionage group was a Soviet spy ring that operated towards the end of the 1950s and into the early 1960s. However, in 1961, the British security services foiled the ring and brought the main perpetrators to justice. The following individuals were identified as playing integral roles within the spy ring and were subsequently tracked down by the British security services:

close up of spying eye

  • Harry Houghton
  • Houghton’s mistress, Ethel Gee
  • Gordon Lonsdale (real name Konon Molody), a Soviet spy posing as a Canadian businessman
  • ‘Peter and Helen Kroger’ (real names Morris and Lena Cohen) – the couple who occupied 45 Cranley Drive.

Unearthing The Portland Spy Ring

The first real breakthrough came in 1959, when an informant shared news with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This informant went to the CIA to report that information was reaching the Soviet Union from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment and HMS Osprey at Portland, located in Dorset. Upon hearing of the leak, the MI5 put Civil Servant Harry Houghton, who was working at the base in Dorset, under surveillance. The fact that he had just bought a fourth car, a house and his expenses far outweighed his salary, made him suspicious.

Harry Houghton and his partner Ethel Gee combined to make a lethal pairing, due to their roles in HMS Osprey at Portland. Ethel Gee was a filing clerk at the base and therefore had access to secret documents that were held there. After extracting information from the secret documents, the pair would travel to London to meet Gordon Lonsdale, where they would proceed to exchange information and packages. It is believed that the group would meet around once a month.

Once Gordon Lonsdale had the information, he would visit 45 Cranley Drive to pass the secrets onto Peter and Helen Kroger. In turn, the occupants of this Ruislip home would feed the information to the Soviet Union. But how did the Krogers get the information to the Soviet Union? Well, the occupants of 45 Cranley Drive would place microdots that contained the secrets in antique books, before mailing them to the Soviet Union.

Participants In This Soviet Spy Ring Brought To Justice

gavel in court room

Whilst in the midst of one of their regular meetings in London, Harry Houghton, Ethel Gee and Gordon Lonsdale were detained. After they were arrested, detectives found that they were carrying classified material taken from the base, including details of HMS Dreadnought, Britain’s first nuclear submarine. After that important discovery, British security services raided the Kroger’s Ruislip house, to unveil microdots – which are the photographic reduction of documents to make them extremely small – in Helen Kroger’s handbag.

In addition, detectives also discovered that the house was overflowing with spy equipment, including devices such as counter surveillance tools, radio transmitters and code pads. Fake passports and large sums of money were also found at the property. All five of these individuals were found guilty of their involvement within the Portland spy ring, having been put on trial for espionage. The following sentences were handed out:

  • Gordon Lonsdale, who was deemed the ‘mastermind’ of the operation, was sentenced to 25 years in prison. However, interestingly, in 1964 he was exchanged for British spy Greville Wynne and sent back to the Soviet state
  • The Krogers received 20 years of incarceration
  • Harry Houghton and Ethel Gee received 15 years of imprisonment.

Today, 45 Cranley Drive still exists and is lived in. It is believed that there were several other members of the Portland spy ring that were never caught.

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