Allied Spy and Victim of ETA: The Curious Story of Roger Tur

Forty years ago today, a man who had served as an Allied spy in Saragossa, Spain during the Second World War died of wounds sustained in a bizarre terrorist attack perpetrated several days before.  The tragic story of Roger Tur first came to my attention via an anecdote contained in the book Canfranc El oro y los nazis, written by journalist Ramón J. Campo and published by Mira Editores.  In a chapter devoted to a network of spies that relayed information about the transport of Nazi gold from bank vaults in Bern, Switzerland to Spain and beyond during the war through a railway station situated on the French-Spanish border, Campo mentions that Roger Tur Pallier, a French resident of Saragossa who served as honorary French consul there and who daily put his life on the line as a spy for the Allies, met an untimely death in that city years later “in an unfortunate incident in which he was rolled up in a carpet by several youths who subsequently set it alight.” This macabre anecdote pricked my curiosity enough to do a little research about Roger Tur and the grisly death that awaited him decades after the war in the city I call home.

Roger Tur was a successful businessman who served as Honorary French Consul in Saragossa, where he owned a licorice factory. Working on his own initiative, he infiltrated Nazi circles that met weekly in that city during the war to share news about the front and plan military and diplomatic activities that promoted the Nazi war effort.  The topics addressed in these meetings ranged from the refueling of German submarines in Spanish ports to the convoys of tungsten and iron that the Spanish government secretly shipped to German munitions plants via an international rail point located in Canfranc, a small village in the mountains of Aragon situated a mere eight kilometers from the French-Spanish border.  Unbeknownst to the other members of this group, which met from October 1944 until early February 1946, Roger Tur prepared weekly summaries of what they discussed and plotted that he passed along under the codename “Ric” to an agent working for the Office of Strategic Services, an organization created by the American government to gather wartime intelligence.  As most Spanish government files related to Spain’s collaboration with the Nazis have since vanished, the information contained in these reports has provided historians with invaluable information about Nazi activity in Spain, the secret complicity of Franco’s regime with the Third Reich, and the Spanish government’s assistance to fleeing Nazis at the war’s end.  Roger Tur was subsequently inducted into the French Legion of Honor for his valor, but apparently never divulged details of his wartime activities to anyone, an understandable decision given the political situation in Spain and his desire to remain in Saragossa.

Although Spain remained in the tyrannical grip of Francisco Franco until the dictator died of natural causes in late 1975, various underground networks seeking to prepare Spanish society for an inevitable future transition to democracy began to form during the 1960s and 1970s. Underground labor movements sprang up, and a new generation of socialists operating clandestinely in Spain began to challenge the party structure that had been maintained in exile since the fall of the Second Republic.  Most were non-violent, but regional separatist movements such as ETA believed that the only way to put an end to the dictatorship and realize nationalist aspirations was by force.   In 1968 ETA assassinated Melitón Manzanas, the police chief of San Sebastian. This act marked the first of a long series of terrorist attacks throughout Spain that would not come to an end until a permanent ceasefire was officially declared in early 2011. During this period, Spanish university students became more politicized and rebellious. In 1972, a handful of students at the University of Zaragoza with anarchist leanings formed a clandestine group they named “el Colectivo Hoz y Martillo” (the Hammer and Sickle).  Members of the Hoz y Martillo organization made several trips to Bayonne, France to make contact with ETA operatives active there. To gain ETA’s approval and convince the terrorist organization to provide them with weapons and explosives, they agreed to kidnap the French consul in Saragossa as a symbolic reprisal for pressures the French government was bringing to bear against ETA cells located in France, a mission that would prove to have fatal consequences for Roger Tur.

Roger Tur, seated third from the right.

On the morning of November 2, 1972, only a few months after the socialist party met in Toulouse and voted for a change of leadership that would pave the way for the emergence of a new generation of liberal Spanish politicians such as Felipe Gonzalez, José Antonio Mellado Romero, Alvaro Noguera Calvet, and Javier Sagarra de Moor burst into the French Consulate in Saragossa. The carpet mentioned in Campos’s book is missing from reports of the crime that I found during an Internet search, all of which stated that the attackers bound the Consul and several aides to chairs and then set off a incendiary devices – most likely handmade Molotov cocktails. At that point, the kidnapping attempt went seriously awry.  Sparks from the explosive devices set the consul’s clothing alight and amid the ensuing chaos, the would-be kidnappers fled the scene.  Roger Turo Pallier died five days later. For more than thirty of his sixty-eight years he had served as French consul in Saragossa. Mellado Romero, Noguero Calvet, and Sagarra de Moor were soon captured and brought to trial. All three were given lengthy prison sentences that were later commuted after the death of Franco.  What they may have later thought of their 1972 escapade in the French Consulate of Saragossa in the light of declassified OSS information about Turo’s clandestine wartime activities against fascism made available to the Spanish public through a series of articles published in La Vanguardia in 2005 and 2006 and further explored in the 2007 book La guerra ignorada: los espías españoles que combatieron a los nazis, one will never know.

References consulted:

Canfranc, el oro y los nazis by Ramón J. Campo; Zaragoza: Mira Editores 2012

La guerra ignorada: los espías españoles que combatieron a los nazis by Eduardo Martín de Pozuelo and Iñaki Ellakuría, Barcelona: Random House Mondadori 2008

“En las cárcles, cincuenta presos no vascos”, el Pais April 30, 1977 access date: 21/09/2012

“El consul francés de Zaragoza y los nazis” blog Antón Castro access date: 21/09/2012

“ETA timeline: Key events in the separatist movement’s deadly campaign for a Basque sovereign state” the Guardian January 10, 2010 access date: 21/09/2012

“España bajo la dictadura franquista 7. conflictividad social galopante y fin del desarrollismo en los primeras años 70”  Historia y Presente (blog) access date: 21/09/2012


“Zaragoza: Ha fallecido el cónsul de Francia, señor Roger Tur” La Vanguardia November 8, 1972 access date: 21/09/2012

“El asesinato del consul frances se fraguo en Bayona” ABC November 11, 1972 access date: 21/09/2012

“Regaliz aragonés para el tobaco rubio americano” Mariano García  el Heraldo (blog section) June 3, 2009

“El consul francés de Zaragoza y los nazis” blog Antón Castro access date: 21/09/2012

Tungsten vs. Wolfram

Some English-language texts about the Spanish convoys of tungsten to Nazi Germany refer to it as wolfram. According to a letter supporting the use of wolfram over tungsten submitted to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry by Pilar Goya, research professor at the Instituto de Química Médica, CSIC, Madrid, and Pascual Román, professor at the Universidad del País Vasco, “If we turn to historical facts, it is well documented and generally accepted, that the true discoverers of element 74 were J.J. Delhuyar and F. Delhuyar who were the first to isolate the pure metal from wolframite (Fe,Mn)WO4 in Spain in 1783. t is also a fact that C.W. Scheele and T.O. Bergman were the first to obtain the trioxide (WO3) from scheelite (CaWO4) two years before, but they did not isolate the pure element.

The word wolfram derives from the German wolf’s rahm, literally meaning wolf´s foam or spuma lupi, which is how wolframite was traditionally known by the saxon miners. The pure element was isolated from wolframite. Tungsten is derived from the Swedish tung (heavy) and sten (stone) meaning heavy stone in reference to the mineral scheelite from which the trioxide was isolated.n page 88 of the original scientific paper published in 1783 by the Delhuyar brothers they claim the name volfram as follows: ‘We will call this new metal volfram, taking the name from the matter of which it has been extracted…. This name is more suitable than tungust or tungsten which could be used as a tribute to tungstene or heavy stone from which its lime was extracted, because volfram is a mineral which was known long before the heavy stone, at least among the mineralogists, and also because the name volfram is accepted in almost all European languages, including Swedish.’ (Note that at that time, the letter “w” did not exist in the Spanish alphabet, but appeared for the first time in 1914 and is now included).

On the basis of all the above, we cannot understand why the name wolfram has been definitely removed from the table, and we claim that the name proposed by its discoverers, which had been accepted since the beginning by the scientific community, should be kept following the Delhuyar brothers’ wishes.

This is not the first time this issue has been raised. Many Spanish chemists have defended the name wolfram for years. In reference textbooks it can be read: ‘The name wolfram, from which the symbol of the element is derived, is still widely used in the German literature and is recommended by IUPAC, but the allowed alternative tungsten is used in the English-speaking world.

In short, many voices have been raised in favor of wolfram. According to R. Hoffmann and O. Sacks, ‘future generations of chemists will be bewildered at the symbol.’ On the basis of all this, we propose that in the table of the elements the name wolfram appear together with tungsten.”

Despite the tradition of adopting discoverers’ names for new elements, IUPAC supports the use of tungsten on the basis of its long-standing acceptation in the English-speaking world, although it admits, “It is correct that if the name wolfram is not used in nomenclature, students will have to learn some history of chemistry to know why the element symbol is W. Tungsten shares this, of course, with a number of other elements, such as potassium, mercury, and silver. There are other reasons in those other cases, but it will remain the privilege of teachers and textbooks, not IUPAC nomenclature recommendations, to tell future students the details of how that came about in each case.”