However, during World War II, when the intelligence community was still an all-male domain, several women proved that the world of spies was not a masculine urban legend and that women could also play a vital role in wartime spying. According to Suyin Haynes, in this era, women were thought to be more inconspicuous as spies and capitalized on this perception during the war, carrying out tasks and missions that men were unable to do. In the field, women could go unnoticed as couriers delivering vital messages, with one SOE dispatch from Holland noting that in 1944, women were rarely stopped and searched at checkpoints.
Historically, charm and sex were often the only kinds of ammunition given to female spies. According to Liza Mundy of The Atlantic, “in a memo, tackling the subject of sex and using women as agents, Maxwell Knight, an officer in MI5, Britain’s domestic counterintelligence agency, asserted that one thing women spies could do was seduce men to extract information. Not just any woman could manage this, he cautioned—only one who was not “markedly oversexed or undersexed.” Like the proverbial porridge, a female agent must be neither too hot nor too cold. If the lady is “undersexed,” she will lack the charisma needed to woo her target. But if she “suffers from an overdose of Sex,” as he put it, her boss will find her “terrifying.” Agent Sonya was a female spy whose work as a Russian agent was clouded by such tired cliches. ‘Agent Sonya’, wrote Chapman Pincher, had ‘no doubt, obliged her comrades with some easy sex.’ The novelist Michael Hartland assumed she was lured into Soviet intelligence by her lover, Richard Sorge. With so little known about ‘Agent Sonya’, such portraits carried weight.”
However, two years later, Agent Sonya, whose real name was Ursula Kuczynski, published her memoir Sonya’s Report. During her interviews, she expressed her bemusement by such claims, telling Julie Wheelwright that she was heavily pregnant when she first met Sorge and far more concerned with being exposed as a Soviet agent than with affairs of the heart. Ursula got her recruitment through Sorge’s lover, the American writer Agnes Smedley. Ursula Kuczynski, also known as Ruth Werner, Ursula Beurton and Ursula Hamburger, was born in Schöneberg, Prussia, German Empire on 15 May 1907. She was a German Communist activist who spied for the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s, most famously as the handler of nuclear scientist Klaus Fuchs. Ursula was privileged by birth. Her family members were distinguished Jewish academics. During her young adult years, Ursula became sympathetic towards the disabled veterans of the Great War who lived and begged in the streets. What she saw fuelled her idealism to create an egalitarian society. At the age of 16, after being beaten by a truncheon in a demonstration, Ursula joined the Communist Party. She attended a librarianship academy and then took a job at Ullstein Verlag, a large Berlin publishing house that she lost in 1928 after participating in a May-Day Demonstration. Between December 1928 and August 1929, Ursula worked in a New York book shop before returning to Berlin and marrying her first husband, Rudolf Hamburger, an architect and fellow member of the Communist Party.
In July 1930, Ursula moved to Shanghai with her architect husband, Rudi Hamburger. In China, she hid in plain sight and for most of the time, without her husband’s knowledge, she used her social contacts in the European social scene of Shanghai to gather information on all sorts of subjects vital for the worldwide anti-fascist movement to know. It was during this time that she met American novelist and reporter; Agnes Smedley. Agnes encouraged her to formalize her relationship with the Soviets and become a spy in the Red Army’s intelligence service. She had close relationships with leading members of the outlawed Communist Party of China in the city, using her outwardly bourgeois cover to provide shelter and aid. In Autumn 1931, after giving birth to her first son in February of the same year, she was sent to Moscow. She had to send her son Michael to live with her husband’s parents so she could undertake a seven-month training session before returning to China. It was also during this period that she mastered various practical aspects of spy-craft. Among these skills were was radio operation which was much prized in the world of espionage.
Her life after a stint in Switzerland became even more compelling. She divorced her husband and married Len Beurton, who was also working for the Soviet GRU. The divorce came after she had several affairs during the first marriage, with one producing a daughter born in April 1936. Through her marriage to Beurton, Ursula Kuczynski, AKA Agent Sonya became known as Ursula Beurton and automatically acquired a British passport. She relocated from Switzerland to England with her new husband where she had her third child, in the summer of 1943. The family became so integrated into the village community. Ursula perfectly masqueraded as a sedate Cotswold village wife and mother. The English countryside was a place of perceived normality for the couple throughout the 40s, where residents of the charming village thought of her as a family woman who loved baking and raising her three children. The stereotype of a sexy vixen, a burden that followed female spies, was far removed from her quiet existence in the village.
Ultimately, Ursula returned to Berlin, where she died in 2000, at 93 years old. Ursula Kuczynski’s work span many years and continents, her actions and politics, causing a lot of debate and criticism. Despite her involvement with Stalin and the Soviet Union, historians and critics unwillingly respect Ursula for her bravery, skills and intelligence.