Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz file photo [25697]

Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz

Given NameJerzy
Born14 Dec 1911
Died4 Jan 1943
CountryPoland, United Kingdom


ww2dbaseUntil his capture and execution in 1943, Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz was one of the most daring and effective British agents in Nazi-occupied Greece. According to British officials, this single agent was worth an entire division of soldiers.

ww2dbaseIwanow-Szajnowicz was the son of Vladimir Ivanov (Polish: Iwanow), a Russian army officer, and Leonarda Szajnowicz, a Polish woman from Warsaw. The couple divorced shortly after the birth of their son. Leonarda, then living in Batum, met and married a wealthy Greek businessman, Joannis Labrianidis. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the couple moved to Salonika, Greece but Iwanow-Szajnowicz was educated at a Catholic boarding school in Bielany, Poland, and then attended a French high school in Salonika. The young man excelled in athletics and academics and later received a degree in agronomy at the University of Louvain in Belgium. Thanks to his unusual upbringing, Iwanow-Szajnowicz was fluent in Polish, Greek, French, and Russian, and also learned to speak excellent English and German. A world-class swimmer, he won numerous medals at the club level in Greece and was a member of the Polish national water polo team in the 1930s.

ww2dbaseBefore the war intervened, Iwanow-Szajnowicz had planned to use his degree in agronomy to assist in the development of farming in Africa. Between 1939 and 1941, he worked in Salonika to help Poles fleeing Nazi occupation escape to the Middle East. After the German invasion of Greece, he made his way to Haifa where he volunteered for the Polish Carpathian Brigade, then serving in North Africa. His dual citizenship and his unusual set of skills, however, led to his recruitment by Polish military intelligence. He was then seconded to the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). Iwanow-Szajnowicz's fluency in Greek proved a valuable asset. At the time, SOE had few Greek-speaking agents and was trying to build a network of operatives in occupied Greece which was a hub for German and Italian shipping and a constant menace to Allied operations in the Mediterranean. After receiving training in spycraft, diversion, and sabotage, the young Pole was sent back to Greece in October 1941 as SOE Agent 033B.

ww2dbaseOnce in Greece, he created a network of Greek patriots - students, businesspeople, and former military personnel - to gather intelligence on Axis operations which was transmitted via clandestine radio sets. On Dec. 18, 1941, he was betrayed by an associate and arrested by the Gestapo. He promptly escaped his Nazi captors who put a price on his head-the massive sum of 500,000 drachma. Although forced to remain in hiding, Iwanow-Szajnowicz, far from lying low, stepped up his activities. He adopted a series of disguises and became a one-man army of destruction.

ww2dbaseIn early 1942, he sabotaged the Maltsinioti Brothers factory in Athens, destroying a large quantity of ammunition and several aircraft engines that were under repair. Nazi authorities later executed 10 Greek workers in retaliation for the attack. In February and March, he infiltrated the Skaramanga naval yard in Athens disguised as a worker. On the night of March 13/14 he swam across to harbor to the German submarine U-133 and placed explosives on the ship which was preparing to leave on a combat mission. A few hours after U-133 left the harbor, the bombs exploded sinking the submarine and killing 45 crew members. In August 1942, he swam across the harbor again and placed a delayed fuse bomb aboard the U-boat U-372, which was about to be sent to support Axis intelligence operations in the eastern Mediterranean. The bombs exploded when U-372 was off the coast of Palestine, forcing the submarine to the surface where it was sunk by British ships and aircraft and the crew taken prisoner.

ww2dbaseAgain using his swimming skills, Iwanow-Szajnowicz was able to lay charges that sank the Spanish transport ship San Isidore which was being used by the Germans to smuggle arms and supplies to their agents in the Mediterranean. Moving to the island of Paros, he sank several Italian transport vessels used to ferry troops and supplies to garrisons on nearby Greek islands. Accompanied by his 17-year old Greek companion, Gabriela Milonopoulou, he then infiltrated the Axis airfield of Elliniko and destroyed fuel supply tanks and several aircraft. Also during this period, he destroyed a locomotive and derailed a train full of military supplies.

ww2dbaseInterviewed in 2013, Milonopoulou, who witnessed many of Iwanow-Szajnowicz's exploits, stated, "He was an ardent patriot and a very brave man. He was educated in Belgium, spoke fluent Greek and three or four other languages. This was a man of 'supernatural' fearlessness and perfect as a spy. When he escaped from prison, he removed handcuffs with serpentine movements, using Vaseline." She also recalled one occasion when the Gestapo managed to track their radio set. Iwanow-Szajnowicz hid her and the radio set in a coffin and placed it the back of a commandeered truck. Disguised as a simple truck driver he drove them out of the city and away from the Nazi dragnet.

ww2dbaseUsing his network of Greek agents, Iwanow-Szajnowicz infiltrated a Greek factory making engines for German and Italian aircraft. He and his agents placed parts in the engines that would gradually decompose over time when in contact with oil. The engines would pass all initial tests and be placed into operational aircraft where they would soon fail, sometimes while in flight. It is estimated that Iwanow-Szajnowicz and his network destroyed or disabled some 400 Axis aircraft.

ww2dbaseHe once came close to assassinating Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. During Mussolini's visit to Athens in July 1942, Iwanow-Szajnowicz, disguised as a German officer, planted a bomb in the hotel where the dictator planned to stay. Mussolini cheated death due to a last minute change in plans that resulted in cutting short his stay in Greece.

ww2dbaseArrested by Italian authorities in late 1942, Iwanow-Szajnowicz escaped again, this time bluffing his way of out of prison disguised as an inebriated Italian officer. He was captured for a third time by the Nazis in November 1942 and given three death sentences. He told his captors "the British sent me, but I am an emissary of the Poles, who will never stop fighting you." While being sent to his execution, he almost escaped a third time, overpowering one of his guards before being recaptured. On January 4, 1943, he was executed by a Nazi firing squad near Athens. Witnesses reported his last words were "long live Poland! Long live Greece!"

ww2dbaseConsidered by some to be a prototype for Ian Fleming's character James Bond, Iwanow-Szajnowicz was posthumously awarded the highest decorations for valor by both Poland and Greece: the Polish Virtuti Militari and the Greek Cross of Valor (Gold), as well as a medal by British government. He is commemorated with a monument in his adopted hometown of Salonika where an annual swimming competition is held in his honor.

Grzegorz Łyś, "Agent o sile dywizji," [The Agent Worth a Division] Rzeczpospolita, July 10, 2009, accessed online
Miltiades Varvounis, "Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz. James Bond II wojny światowej," [Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz: The James Bond of World War II] Dec. 14, 2012, accessed online
Miltiades Varvounis, "Gabriela Milonopoulou, towarzyszka Iwanowa-Szajnowicza," [Interview with Gabriela Milonopoulou, Comrade of Iwanow-Szjanowicz] Jan. 3, 2013, accessed at

Last Major Revision: Apr 2016

Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz Timeline

14 Dec 1911 Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz was born in Warsaw, Poland.
18 Dec 1941 Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz was betrayed by an associate and arrested by the Gestapo in Greece.
13 Mar 1942 After sundown and into the next date, Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz swam across a Greek harbor to the German submarine U-133 and placed explosives on the ship which was preparing to leave on a combat mission. U-133 destroyed on 14 Mar 1942, killing 45 crew members.
4 Jan 1943 Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz was executed by a Nazi firing squad near Athens, Greece.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Giorgio says:
7 Dec 2019 02:37:37 PM

Great man and hero. When are we going to see a movie about his accomplishments?
2. Anonymous says:
10 Jun 2020 01:13:01 AM

There's a movie: a polish movie "Agent no 1" from 1971. Way, way behind the level of Holywood productions but better that than nothing.
3. Anonymous says:
22 Dec 2021 12:37:03 PM

Czesc ichwaƂa bohaterom

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