Doppelgangers of Stalin, Castro, Hussein and other dictators were used as targets for assassinations. But some “clones” influenced wars and politics. We recall the stories of famous doppelgangers with archival photos

Serhii Pyvovarov
Yuliana Skibitska

At the end of October, the head of Ukrainian intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, said that the Russian dictator Putin has at least three doppelgangers. This practice isnʼt new for dictators. They are usually use their copies as bait or targets. It is known about several “Stalins” who survived murder attempts on the Soviet dictator. There are legends that instead of Hitler in 1945, his double was killed, and the genuine Hitler escaped. In 2003, the Americans were forced to prove that they caught the real Saddam Hussein, and not his doppelganger. But there were other examples. The doppelganger of British General Montgomery was able to deceive the Germans and contributed to the success of the Normandy landings in 1944. And in the late 1940s, the voice double of the American President Truman successfully tricked the leaders of the world powers by telephone. “Babel” recalls stories and legends about doppelgangers of dictators, politicians and soldiers with archival photos.

Dictatorsʼ doppelgangers as targets

At the end of the 1920s, one of the bloodiest dictators of the 20th century, Joseph Stalin, finally seized power in the USSR. Almost immediately, the heads of his special security decided that Stalin needed copies to protect him from possible assassination attempts.

The first “clone” of a dictator named Rashidov was found in the North Caucasus. His name is unknown, as well as his further fate. According to one version, he died during another assassination attempt on Stalin in the 1930s. According to another, he died in 1991 in Krasnodar at the age of 93.

Joseph Stalin with bodyguards on the street in Moscow, 1920s.

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In 1937, the film “Lenin in October” was released, followed by several more films. The first actor who played Stalin in a movie was Semen Goldshtab. He looked so convincing that the special services immediately approached him with the offer to become the dictatorʼs double. The actor refused, but agreed to train other clones. One of his famous “disciples” was a native of Vinnytsia Yevsei Lubytskyi — in order to believably copy Stalin, he even had to start smoking. He coped with his role so well that he somehow even tricked one of the closest people from Stalinʼs entourage at the time — the head of the NKVD, Nikolai Yezhov.

Semen Goldshtab (right) in the role of Stalin, 1930-1940.

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In 1942, another ideal copy of Stalin appeared — Dagestan circus artist Felix Dadaev. In the hospital, the NKVD agents drew attention to him and offered to become a clone of the dictator. Dadaev wasnʼt surprised, because friends and acquaintances often compared him to Stalin. The new doppelganger was plotted as much as possible — they declared him dead and sent a funeral note to his relatives. Another actor, who played a dictator in the movies, Alexei Dikiy, began to teach him. Dadaev was almost 40 years younger than Stalin, but this difference was skillfully hidden by makeup artists.

Felix Dadaev (left) and Joseph Stalin, footage from newsreels of the 1940s and 1950s.

Since then, Dadaev replaced Stalin until the dictatorʼs death in 1953. At first, the tasks were simple, for example, driving instead of Stalin in a car. But later, Dadaev began to replace the dictator at celebrations, even hosting parades on Red Square. One of the most important tasks was to play Stalinʼs departure to meet with Roosevelt and Churchill, first in Tehran in 1943, and then in Yalta in 1945. Dadaev told about all this in 2008, when he was already under 90 years old. He also admitted that Stalin had several more doubles.

Joseph Stalin (left) and one of his closest henchmen, Kliment Voroshilov, during a parade on Red Square, 1930-1940.

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There are many theories about the doppelgangers of another, no less bloody dictator, Adolf Hitler. However, none of them could be confirmed, at least more or less officially. One of the earliest doubles of the Nazi dictator was considered to be his personal driver, Julius Schreck. However, he died of meningitis in 1936.

Adolf Hitler shakes hands with a girl, next to him in the front seat is his driver Julius Schreck, 1930s.

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Most of the theories about Hitlerʼs doubles appeared after his suicide in the Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945. Their main leitmotif is that instead of the dictator, a doppelganger was killed, and he and his mistress Eva Brown escaped. This legend was actively supported by fugitive Nazis. Yes, and some Soviet officers also added fuel to the fire, talking about the fact that Hitlerʼs body was never found.

These theories were refuted even after the end of the Second World War by one of the judges of the Nuremberg Tribunal, the American lawyer Michael Musmanno. He personally interrogated several dozen of Hitlerʼs closest associates, who claimed that he had no doppelgangers. In his 1950 book on Hitlerʼs death, Musmanno wrote: “It is inconceivable that Hitler, with his self-assured superiority over any other human being, would have allowed even an artificial copy of himself to exist.”

The main purpose of dictator doubles is to deceive potential enemies, so all cases of their use are kept strictly secret. Former US Deputy Secretary of the Army Joe Reeder talked about dictators of various countries who used doppelgangers to avoid being killed or kidnapped. Among them are Manuel Noriega from Panama, Raul Cedras from Haiti, Enver Hoxha from Albania, Fidel Castro from Cuba.

In 2003, the American military, after a long search, detained the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. But against the background of rumors about doppelgangers, the then US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was forced to justify himself and prove that they had caught the real Hussein.

British newspapers with front page news of the capture of Saddam Hussein, December 15, 2003.

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Most likely, all rulers from the North Korean dictator Kim dynasty had doppelgangers. And the current Kim Jong Un is no exception. In South Korea and Hong Kong, there are often parodists who make fun of the dictators of North Korea.

An impersonator of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with an inflatable nuclear missile at a shopping mall in Hong Kong on April 28, 2020.

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A doppelganger who influenced World War II

During World War II, British intelligence launched various disinformation campaigns against the enemy. One of the largest and most successful was the operation to misinform the Germans about the place and time of landing on the coast of France. It was started more than a year before the actual “D-Day”.

As part of this campaign, they decided to find a double for the British general Bernard Montgomery, who was to command all the ground forces of the allies during the Normandy landings. But it turned out to be a difficult task. The first candidate was outwardly similar to Montgomery, perfectly copying his mannerisms, but he was too tall, so he could only be carried in a car. The second candidate unexpectedly broke his leg in a car accident.

The headquarters of British intelligence was already thinking of abandoning the operation with the double. Suddenly they saw in the newspaper photos from an army movie with an actor who looked remarkably like Montgomery. It was an Australian, a veteran of the First World War, Clifton James. He was summoned to London allegedly for filming in a patriotic film. And only on the spot was it explained to James what he should actually be doing.

Actor Clifton James (left) and General Bernard Montgomery, 1944.

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The actor was sent to Montgomeryʼs headquarters in the guise of a journalist so that he could adopt the generalʼs gestures, facial expressions and manner of speaking. In order to more effectively adapt to the role, James had to give up alcohol and smoking, since Montgomery did not drink or smoke. James lost the middle finger on his right hand during the First World War, so he was given a prosthetic and advised not to take off his gloves in public.

At the end of May 1944, James was sent on a tour via Gibraltar to North Africa. Here he was supposed to “hint” at the false invasion plans to everyone whom German spies could reach. But the operation almost failed. In Algeria, James lost his temper and got drunk. Then he was secretly taken to Cairo, where he stayed until “D-Day”.

The real General Montgomery during his first press conference after the Normandy landing, June 1944.

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The Montgomery doppelganger story was just part of a disinformation campaign. All this together worked so well that the Germans concentrated their main forces in the area of the port of Calais in northern France. And the first few days after the landing in Normandy, reinforcements were not sent there, considering it a diversionary maneuver. Captured German officers later said that their intelligence actually mistook James for Montgomery and even planned to kill him in North Africa. So the double also made an input to make the Normandy landings a success.

After the war, James published a memoir, I Was Montyʼs Double. It was followed by a film of the same name in 1958, where James played both himself and General Montgomery.

I Was Montyʼs Double Poster, 1958.

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Voice copies

During World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill became famous, among other things, for his patriotic speeches. And in the 1970s and 1980s, a theory emerged that these speeches were actually recorded for radio broadcast by the British actor Norman Shelley, who successfully imitated the prime ministerʼs voice and intonation features. At first glance, the explanation seemed quite logical. At that time, there was no sound recording equipment in Parliament, where Churchill delivered his speeches. And the prime minister simply did not have free time to repeat them for the radio broadcast.

Winston Churchill delivers a speech at Londonʼs Albert Hall, 1944.

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But this theory has too many weak points, especially regarding the confusion with dates. For example, the author of one of the studies on Churchillʼs voice doubles claims that Shelley recorded one of the famous speeches We will fight on the beaches in the voice of the prime minister in the same year 1940. But in fact, at that time, various BBC radio presenters simply quoted excerpts from the speech, without imitating Churchillʼs voice. And one more example — the author claims that Shelley told him that he imitated the Prime Ministerʼs voice during an interview in December 1981. Although at that time 16 months had already passed since the death of the actor.

British people listen to Winston Churchillʼs speech on the radio, August 1941.

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Another case of a voice double these days can be called a prank call. The administration of American President Harry Truman admitted that in 1947, an unknown person called the leaders of various states on behalf of the American president with a demand to vote in a certain way in the UN. Moreover, it was so convincing that, for example, the president of Haiti agreed to change his position during the vote. According to official data, the prankster was never found.

Harry Truman speaks at the UN General Assembly, 1946.

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And finally, one more case with a voice double of a famous politician. In 1971, former Indian Army soldier Rastom Sohrab Nagarwala called the chief cashier of the State Bank of India. Imitating the voice of the Prime Minister of the country, Indira Gandhi, he asked for six million rupees to be spent on government needs. The cashier initially believed and even handed over the money to the fraudster, who pretended to be a courier working for the government. However, just in case, the cashier still decided to question Gandhiʼs personal secretary. So the deception was exposed, Nagarwala was arrested, and soon after he died in prison of a heart attack.

Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi inspects the Guard of Honor on Republic Day on January 26, 1967.

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Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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