In the novel, Sir Hugo Drax is a famous English Second World War hero, believed to have been working in Liverpool harbour before the war, who became a post-war millionaire. He has red hair, and half of his face is badly scarred from a German attack during the War. The same incident left him with amnesia. He is 6 ft (183 cm) tall. After the war, Drax made a fortune from trading metals in Tangier and was able to start up his company, "Drax Metals Ltd", which specialises and has a monopoly in the production of a metal called columbite. Drax is also the backer of the 'Moonraker' missile project being built to defend the United Kingdom against its Cold War enemies. The metal columbite gives a missile's engine an extra layer of protection so that it can burn hotter fuels, thus greatly expanding its range of fire.
As it turns out, Sir Hugo Drax is not who he seems; he was born in Germany and his real name was Graf Hugo von der Drache. His mother was English and Drache was educated in England until the age of twelve. Afterwards he moved to Berlin and later Leipzig, where he continued and finished his education. After graduating, he joined the Nazi Party and entered the Wehrmacht as a soldier in the Panzer Brigade 150. At the outset of the Second World War he took part in the Blitzkrieg campaigns in Belgium and France, before becoming a Skorzeny Werwolf commando. After the Ardennes offensive he stayed behind Allied lines when their forces crossed the Rhine and started operating in the Low Countries with his commando group. During a mission, he dressed as a British soldier so that he could sabotage and destroy a farmhouse holding a mixed liaison group of American and British servicemen, but he ended up at the same farm after being attacked by his own German fighter because he was wearing the British uniform which he used to get close to the British Despatch rider. While he was still conscious, he managed to destroy his motorbike and documents. Later he was found and brought to the farm, so he was caught in the explosion and nearly killed. He was then rescued by the British and nursed back to health, claiming to be a "missing soldier" by the name of Hugo Drax. After being discharged from nursing care, he killed a Jewish businessman in London and escaped to Tangier with £15,000 he stole from him.
Drax had an insurmountable hatred for Britain, he started the 'Moonraker' missile project under the pretence that he would test fire the missile into the North Sea (missiles were the cutting-edge of technology in the 1950s). Instead of doing so, however, he targeted his missile on London and armed it with an atomic bomb he received through support by the Soviets and later learned SMERSH. Drax uses his knowledge of the impending disaster to play the stock market, planning to make a huge profit from his own terrorist act. Bond, with the help of female Special Branch agent Gala Brand, sabotaged Drax's 'Moonraker' missile launch and changed the coordinates of the target back to the North Sea, where after the missile was launched Drax and his men had escaped so that they could watch as London was destroyed. In the event, the Soviet submarine carrying Drax was destroyed by the blast of the nuclear warhead.
The Moonraker novel involved the idea of the "traitor within" throughout the course of the book. Drax, real name Graf Hugo von der Drache, is a "megalomaniac German Nazi who masquerades as an English gentleman"; his assistant, Krebbs, bears the same name as Hitler's last Chief of Staff. In using a German as the novel's main enemy, "Fleming ... exploits another British cultural antipathy of the 1950s. Germans, in the wake of World War II, made another easy and obvious target for bad press." Moonraker uses two of the foes feared by Fleming, the Nazis and the Soviets, with Drax being German and working for the Soviets; in Moonraker the Soviets were hostile and provided not just the atomic bomb, but support and logistics to Drax.
Fleming used aspects of his private life to create the character Drax: Hugo Drax was named after his acquaintance Admiral Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax. Other elements of the plot came from Fleming's knowledge of wartime operations carried out by T-Force, a secret British Army unit formed to continue the work of 30 Assault Unit, itself created by Fleming.
In the film adaptation, Hugo Drax is a billionaire living in California in a château that was imported from France. He owns Drax Industries, which constructs space shuttles. In addition, Drax supposedly owns the Eiffel Tower, but apparently couldn't export it from France because they wouldn't issue him an export permit. Drax portrays himself as an accomplished pianist, as evidenced by his recital of Chopin's "Raindrop" Prelude in D flat major (op. 28) on his grand piano (which he plays in the key of D); in fact, he poses at a player piano in an attempt to impress his guests.
An example of the Drax character's ruthlessness as portrayed in the film is given by the manner in which he disposes of enemies. In one case, after discovering that his personal pilot Corinne Dufour had assisted Bond in discovering his plans, Drax fires her, but then proceeds to set his trained dogs on her, these dogs are not dobermanns as many[who?] believe, but Beaucerons; they chase her into a forest and finally kill her.
Bond follows a trail around the world to investigate the theft of a space shuttle on loan to the UK by Hugo Drax (its engines were fired while it was riding on a 747), starting in California at Drax Industries, and following it to Italy, then to Brazil, then into space.
In a scheme similar to that of Karl Stromberg's plan, Drax sought to destroy the entire human race except for a small group of carefully selected humans, both male and female, that would leave Earth on six shuttles (the one just stolen from NASA to replace one that had faults) and have sanctuary on a space station in orbit over Earth. Using chemical weapons created by Drax's scientists, derived from the toxin of a rare South American plant, the Black Orchid, at an installation in Italy, he would wipe out the remainder of humanity. The biological agents were to be dispersed around the earth from a series of 50 strategically placed globes, each containing enough toxin to kill 100 million people while the toxin itself would have no effect on animals. Only three globes had been launched when the station was destroyed, taking with it the threat from the other 47 globes.
After a period of time, when the chemical agents had become harmless, Drax and his master race would return to Earth to reinhabit the planet. These humans would supposedly live in harmony with one another under his command.
Bond obtained a sample of the chemical agent at the location in Italy, and analysis of it led him to a remote part of Brazil where he found Drax's shuttle-launch facility in an ancient civilization's shrine.
Bond and his companion, CIA agent Dr. Holly Goodhead, commandeer one of Drax's space shuttles and blast off to his orbiting space station. There, with the help of Jaws - who defected to help Bond when Bond subtly tricked Drax into admitting that Jaws and his new girlfriend didn't fit Drax's 'standards' - and a group of American space soldiers launched on a military-owned shuttle, Drax is cornered in the station's airlock and ejected into space.
In his novelization of the movie, screenwriter Christopher Wood describes Drax as red-haired and with a face scarred and botched by poor plastic surgery (from a time "before he could afford the best in the world"), much as originally envisioned by Fleming. Although Drax's nationality is not specified, Bond idly wonders to himself which side he fought on during World War II.