Eric "Red" Erickson (1896 – January 1983) was a Swedish oil executive who worked as an operative for the Office of Strategic Services during World War 2.


Erickson was born in 1896 in Brooklyn, New York State in the United States, the son of Swedish immigrants.[1] After working in the oilfields of Texas, Erickson decided to get a college degree and go to work in the oil business.[1] In order to start college and avoid the 1917 wartime draft, Erickson claimed to be seven years older than his actual age, and years later would invent a cover story that he served with the U.S. Army in World War I as an intelligence officer, although this was not true.[1] After attending Cornell University at the suggestion of oil magnate Walter C. Teagle, Erickson graduated in 1921. After working for Standard Oil in Asia, Erickson moved to Sweden in 1924 and became a successful oil trader. During the mid-1930s, he renounced his U.S. citizenship and became a Swedish citizen.1945[2]

Espionage Career

At the outbreak of war in 1939, Erickson continued his oil business with Nazi Germany, making millions of dollars in the process.[1] After being placed on a wartime blacklist by the USA in 1942 for collaboration with the enemy, Erickson was disowned by his brother in America.[1] In order to clear his name, Erickson agreed to work for the Allies, and was given the code name 'Red' by U.S. intelligence.[1] Pretending that he was a Nazi sympathizer interested in building a refinery in Sweden to process oil for Germany, Erickson visited Germany more than 30 times between 1939 and 1945[3][4] in order to spy on German synthetic oil plants for the OSS, which used his information to provide targeting data for Allied bombing raids.[4] During his visits he fell in love with a German woman, Anne-Maria Freudenreich, who was shot by the Gestapo at Moabit Prison in 1945.[1]

Alexander Klein wrote a 1958 book about Erickson's World War II exploits, The Counterfeit Traitor, which was made into a 1962 movie of the same name, starring William Holden in the role of 'Red' Erickson.[4] While mostly accurate, the film included some invented material including Erickson's daring escape from Germany in 1945.[1] Erickson himself appeared on "To Tell the Truth" June 3, 1958, to publicize the book, which also included some invented material such as his killing of a Gestapo agent.[1]


Erickson died in Sweden in January 1983 of natural causes.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "How an American Nazi Collaborator Became an Allied Spy". The Atlantic. 18 September 2013. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  2. ^ "Eric Erickson, Wartime Spy (abstract of obituary)". The New York Times. January 25, 1983. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
  3. ^ a b "Eric Erickson, Wartime Spy (abstract of obituary)". The New York Times. January 25, 1983. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
  4. ^ a b c "Alexander Klein, 83; Wrote Spy Thriller (obituary)". The New York Times. August 24, 2002. Retrieved 2007-11-16.