Nazi sabotage hoax

29 March 1942

Newspaper report on the Ross hoax
Newspaper report on the Ross hoax (PapersPast)

During the Second World War, convicted conman Sydney Gordon Ross duped New Zealand’s intelligence service into believing that Nazi agents were planning to carry out sabotage in New Zealand.

The day after his release from prison in March 1942, Ross contacted government minister Robert Semple, claiming he had been approached by a German agent to join a sabotage cell that was active in Ngongotahā, near Rotorua. Prime Minister Peter Fraser referred Ross to Major Kenneth Folkes, a British officer in charge of the newly established Security Intelligence Bureau (SIB).

Folkes believed Ross’ story. He approached the government for more troops and greater powers to arrest and detain suspects. Fraser asked the police to investigate the ‘Nazi headquarters’ in Ngongotahā, which turned out to be occupied by an elderly Native Department clerk, a dry-cleaner and three nurses. Ross’ story quickly unravelled.

The hoax was a huge embarrassment for New Zealand’s fledging intelligence service. Folkes returned to Britain and the police took over the SIB. Ross, who was not charged in relation to the hoax, died of tuberculosis in August 1946.