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THE 1950s

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Introduction

Klaus Fuchs gave atomic research information to the Soviet Union, and was tried under the U.K's Official Secrets Act at his trial in February 1950. The maximum sentence under the Official Secrets Act is Life Imprisonment.

In 1951, the husband and wife, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage as covered by the US's Espionage Act 1917. An offence which carried a maximum sentence of death in the U.S.A. They were both found guilty at their trial, and sentence to death. Despite numerous appeals for clemency, they were both electrocuted in 1953.

The Case Details

Klaus Fuchs was charged with four counts under Section 1(1) of the Official Secrets Act 1911, in that he communicated information concerning atomic research which was calculated to be or might have been or was intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy. The four counts related to the four separate occasions that Fuchs passed information to Soviet agents:

  • On a day in 1943 whilst in Birmingham, UK.

  • Being a British Subject, between 31 December 1943 and 1 August 1944, in New York, USA.

  • Being a British Subject, on a day unknown in February 1945, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

  • On a day in 1947, in Berkshire, UK.

The Prosecution at Fuchs' trial was led by the UK's Attorney General, assisted by Mr. Christmas Humphreys and Mr. R.E. Seaton.

The following Witnesses were called by the Prosecution: Henry ARNOLD, Willian James SKARDON, Michael Wilcox PERRIN and Leonard BURT.

Henry Arnold was the Security Officer at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell. Fuchs came to see him on 12 October 1949 and told him that his Father had been offered a chair at Leipzig University. He then introduced Fuchs to Mr. Skardon, and arranged several interviews between them. On 26 January 1950, Fuchs saw Arnold before his appointment with Mr. Skardon. When asked if he had disclosed information to the Russians, Fuchs outlined what he had disclosed.

William James Skardon was an officer in the Security Service. He first saw Fuchs on 21 December 1949, who gave Skardon a long interview concerning his early life. He admitted in later discussions to Skardon that he had been engaged in spying since the middle of 1942, until about a year ago (1949). These activities continued during 1944 in New York, for a period at Los Alamos, and again in London on his return. Skardon later cautioned Fuchs, and took down his statement (Exhibit 3). Skardon also stated that it was Fuchs’ signature on the Oath of Allegiance (Exhibit 2), and the Security Undertaking (Exhibit 4). He also confirmed, under cross-examination, that since 24 January 1950, Fuchs had been very co-operative.

Michael Wilcox Perrin was the Deputy Controller of Atomic Energy, Technical Policy, Ministry of Supply. He stated that he had an interview with Fuchs and Skardon, at which Fuchs gave a detailed explanation of the technical information had had given to the Russians.

Leonard Burt was a Commander, Special Branch, New Scotland Yard. On 3.30pm, 2 February 1950, he went with Inspector Smith to the Shell Mex House. He then arrested Fuchs. He was taken to Bow Street, where he was formally charged. Burt produced Exhibit 1, and Exhibit 2 which was found on the night of 2 February 1950 at Fuchs’ house (in Harwell, Berkshire).

The Oath of Allegiance was taken by Fuchs on 31 July 1942, in the presence of a Commissioner for Oaths in Birmingham. The other details on the certificate No. AZ17093 are shown below.

  • Name: Klaus Emil Julius FUCHS.

  • Address: Calthrope Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham.

  • Trade: Mathematical Physicist.

  • Born: Russelheim, Germany, on 29 December 1911.

  • Status: Single.

  • Parents: Emil and Else Fuchs (German).

Fuchs was defended at his trial by Mr. Derek Curtis Bennett, KC, and Mr. Malcolm Morris. At his trial, held at the Central Criminal Court, on 1 March 1950, Fuchs was found guilty of all the charges and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment.

After the Trial

Despite being sentenced to 14 years in prison, Fuchs was released in 1959 for good behaviour. Fuchs then travelled to East Germany, where he was granted citizenship and was appointed deputy director of the Central Institute for Nuclear Research, Rossendorf (near Dresden). He remained a committed Communist and received many honours from the East German Communist Party and the scientific establishment there.

Klaus Fuchs died on 28 January 1988, somewhere in the former East Germany.

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