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Tales from The Range


A Spy In Our Midst?


A First World War German spy was caught in the Helensburgh district and executed at the Tower of London in 1915. The fate of Augusto Alfredo Roggen, who was a long way from being a James Bond but paid the ultimate penalty for espionage after being arrested at the Tarbet Hotel, is an extraordinary story.

Augusto was born in Montevideo in 1881, the son of a German who became a Uruguyan citizen four years later, and when he grew up he married a German lady. Described as small, dark, neat and dapper, he did not look German, and he had developed a good command of English.

The mission which was to lead to his death began when he sailed from the Dutch port of Rotterdam on the Batavia, arriving at Tilbury Docks on May 30, 1915. He was interviewed by the Aliens Officer, and he told him that he intended to travel to Scotland. This was allowed, and he arrived in Edinburgh on June 5. On his way he visited agricultural suppliers in London and Lincoln, claiming to be farmer on business, but those he spoke to thought him patently ignorant of the subject, and he appeared to have no references. When registering at the Carlton Hotel in Edinburgh, he again indicated that he was a farmer and said he was interested in agricultural vehicles.

The following day he registered with the police and, rather oddly, told the officers that while in Germany he had been under suspicion as a spy and was kept under surveillance. That same day he asked the hotel manager's wife about going around the Trossachs and the availability of local hotels. He went there on a day's outing, but on his return said that he preferred to travel to Tarbet where he intended to stay and fish. He had no fishing gear, but it was often possible to hire tackle, especially for sea fishing. Before leaving the capital, he sent two postcards to H.Flores, Binnenweg 127, Rotterdam. They were both intercepted, as they had been sent to an address familiar to the security services. They were copied, then allowed to carry on their postal journey, but the authorities now began to take a close interest in his activities. Augusto was not aware of this when he booked into the Tarbet Hotel on June 9. He bought a map of Loch Lomond and the head of Loch Long ó and Loch Long was a restricted area where fishing was banned. Nearby Succoth was also the home of the Royal Navy torpedo testing range.

The authorities were extremely worried about Augusto's presence on Loch Lomondside, so within five hours of his arrival at the picturesque hotel at the junction of the Arrochar and Crianlarich roads, there was a dramatic police swoop led by Superintendent John Wright of Helensburgh Police. He was immediately arrested, and a search of his room revealed damning evidence ó a loaded Browning revolver with 50 rounds of ammunition, invisible ink, and contacts details. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times did not report the incident at the time, presumably because of wartime censorship, but they did refer to it after the war, referring to Augusto as ďa dangerous typeĒ.

Events moved swiftly after the arrest. Superintendent Wright escorted the prisoner to London, where he and his luggage were handed over to Inspector Edmund Buckley of Special Branch at Scotland Yard. He was unable or unwilling to explain the postcards sent to known enemy espionage addresses. He was tried by a court martial at Middlesex Guildhall in Westminster on August 20, before the president, Major General Lord Cheysmore. He gave no evidence, made no statement, was found guilty, and was sentenced to death by shooting. An appeal for clemency was received at the War Office from the Uruguyan Ambassador, and in the interests of diplomacy it was thought prudent to delay the execution and give the representation due consideration. However it was concluded that there was nothing in the note of appeal which would warrant a different course of action.

This remarkable tale of a spy whose relatively insignificant activities achieved absolutely nothing and for which he was to pay with his life was concluded at 6 a.m. on September 17 1915 at the Tower of London. Augusto Alfredo Roggen was shot by a firing squad composed of men from the 3rd Battalion, Scots Guards. Observers considered that he faced his death as a brave man, marching to the chair with a defiant air and bearing, and refusing to have his eyes blindfolded.


Bombing of the Range WW11 

My most memorable happening of the war was the night the Germanís bombed the Range. You probably have heard many accounts, for Iím sure all of those who were in Arrochar on that night will remember going outside to see the damage and being relieved to see nothing. The big question afterwards was-

Did the Germans have a plan to bomb the Range? It has always, seemed, to me that it would have been too much of a coincidence to have come so close to destroying our only torpedo testing facilities.  I believe that one aircraft had a special mission to bomb the Range. I cannot remember definitely, but I think that on that particular night the Germans were carrying out a random Belfast (or maybe Clydeside) and when they were on such raids some of their aircraft used to fly over Arrochar as we could hear the drone of the engines. On a well moonlit night they would have been able to see the lochs quite clearly and therefore navigation would not have been a problem.  Some people thought it could have been a stray aircraft and that the crew saw the recovery boats tied up at their buoys thought it would be a good idea to get rid of their bombs early and return home. I still believe that they knew what the target was, for they very nearly succeeded in hitting a very important target.  Another theory was that some of these German aircraft came from Norway when bombing Clydeside and Belfast and they used to fly over Scotland from the North East. Iím not sure how true this was but it would have been a long flight from Norway taking them to nearly the extent of their range.  Iím sure there will be other people with other theories about the night the recovery boat was bombed but I doubt if we will ever find the true answer to the puzzle of whether the Range was a planned target or not.

By Billy Dawson


See also History Of The Ttorpedo Range


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