(01.08.1873 - 04.05.1947)
place of birth: Braunschweig (Brunswick)
Imperial German officer Walter Nicolai was born to the family of a former infantry captain/company
commander, who died when Walter was only four years of age. His mother
came from a simple peasant family but was able to get her son into the
cadet corps, where he spent his formative years. Beginning his military
service in 1893 as a lieutenant in an infantry regiment in Gottingen,
Nicolai boosted his service career by marrying his commander's daughter.
student at Berlin's Military Academy, Walter specialized in foreign
languages, learning Russian, French, and English. As an officer assigned
to do intelligence work at the Great General Staff, Nicolai also became
proficient in Japanese. Following the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, he was
sent to the military intelligence section of I. Army Corps in Königsberg
where he studied Russian military doctrine. He also served as a company
commander in an infantry regiment before finally landing in 1912 back
with the Prussian Great General Staff to temporarily head up its intelligence
section, a post he would keep until war's end.
Major Nicolai spent his pre-war years
in Berlin working with Ludendorff to build up Germany's intelligence
capabilities while improving relations with sister security services in
Austria and Italy. At war's outbreak, Nicolai became the permanent
commander of OHL's intelligence and counter-intelligence office, Section IIIb,
overseeing 90 officers and military civil servants and heading up the war propaganda effort as well. His chief task during the
war, however, remained the managing of the flow of reconnaissance
information. There were some field commanders, most notably the Crown
Prince, who greatly resented Nicolai's "meddling" when he
placed his intelligence officers, or "OHL spies", within the
staffs of numbered armies. Major Nicolai also cultivated a heated
rivalry with Colonel Max Bauer as Section IIIb delved deeper into
Germany's domestic policies.
As the war ground to a halt, now Lieutenant Colonel Walter Nicolai took
the cessation of hostilities in stride, but his efforts to find
employment within post-war Germany's Reichswehr proved fruitless.
Upon retiring from military service in early 1920, he received a
ceremonial promotion to full colonel and kept the right to wear a
uniform. Reichswehr commander Hans von Seeckt indicated to
Nicolai that he should keep himself ready should the Fatherland ever
need his extensive intel experience, but neither the Weimar Republic
nor the Third Reich ever thought to call him back into duty.
Despite this fact, in 1945 the Russian NKVD apprehended the former
security chief at his home in Nordhausen, believing that he had been a key figure in Hitler's
intelligence service. Nicolai died in 1947 while still
under arrest at the Butyrka Hospital in Moscow.