Published by Pen & Sword Military on March 5, 2017
Genres: Espionage, Sabotage
A New York Times review provided an irresistible description of this book’s topic: “The Redl Affair had everything: sex, espionage, betrayal, a fall from greatness and a sensational climax in which Redl went to his death like a figure of high tragedy.”
Alfred Redl was an Austro-Hungarian army officer and former head of the Empire’s counterintelligence. In 1913, he was discovered selling military secrets to the Russians and perhaps others. After being confronted, he was allowed to commit suicide and shot himself. Notably, Redl had passed to the Russians the Empire’s mobilization plans, eventually raising the important question of whether his betrayal had been a cause of Austria-Hungary’s poor performance once the war started in 1914.
In the preface, the authors argue convincingly that this is the first “factual” biography of Alfred Redl in English and state clearly that there is much about his case that will never be known for certain. Sadler and Fisch do an excellent job of describing Redl’s life and his situation as a perpetual outsider—a non-aristocrat homosexual of modest means, modest family background, and high intelligence. Combined with the stultifying culture of the twilight years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its army, they make a convincing case for their explanation of Redl’s motivations for betrayal.
Sadler and Fisch could have done a better job in guiding readers through the difficult thicket of disinformation, cover-ups, yellow journalism, and politically motivated allegations that followed in the wake of the Redl affair. Despite this confusion, the book is a valuable addition to the histories of the Empire, of WW1, and of espionage itself.
Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of the World War One Historical Association and a retired CIA analyst