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Military and intelligence history mostly dealing with World War II.

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    It seems that during WWII the British codebreakers did not have much respect for the security of US diplomatic communications:


    What report are they referring to? This one:

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    A British report investigating the security of US diplomatic codes mentions that the Irish had a codebreaking department and were ‘thoroughly well equipped in the art of code breaking’.

    According to another report ‘their head cryptographer is extremely able’.

    Who could they be referring to? It seems that the head of the Irish codebreaking department was a mr Richard Hayes.

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    A very interesting report on the problems of the crypto systems used by SOE has been posted at the arcre website.

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    Airpower played a major role in WWII. The German victories in the period 1939-41 are linked with the support they received from the Luftwaffe and especially from ground support aircraft like the Ju-87 ‘Stuka’.

    The Soviet AF also produced and used huge numbers of the Ilyushin Il-2 ‘Sturmovik’aircraft.

    The USAAF and RAF on the other hand were guided by the doctrine of strategic bombing. For that reason they invested huge resources on heavy bombers but did not produce a specialized ground attack aircraft like the Germans and Soviets. Instead they used in that role their standard fighter aircraft Hurricane, Typhoon, P-40, P-47, P-51.

    How did these planes perform in battle? Many history books claim that swarms of Allied fighter-bombers destroyed whole German armored units and paralyzed enemy movements. German generals attributed their defeats to crushing Allied air superiority.

    The book ‘Air Power at the Battlefront: Allied Close Air Support in Europe 1943-45’ by Ian Gooderson tries to answer this question by analyzing the information collected  by Operational Research Sections during the war.
    The ORS teams included both military and civilian personnel and their goal was to collect information regarding enemy losses and performance of weapons from the battlefield.

    Their studies of battles in NW Europe from summer 1944 to the end of the war showed that fighter bomber units overstated their kills by a very wide margin and that heavy bomber attacks caused little damage to German troops due to their wide dispersion.

    For example the German attack near Mortain  was supposed to have been defeated mainly through air attacks. Allied pilots claimed over 200 tanks destroyed and the German general Hans Speidel wrote: ‘it was possible for the Allied air forces alone to wreck this Panzer operation with the help of a well coordinated ground to air communications system’. However when the area was examined by No2 ORS and ORS 2ndTAF only 46 tanks and self-propelled guns were found and of these only 9 were considered to have been destroyed by air weapons!

    During the Falaise pocket battle the RAF claimed 3.340 soft skinned vehicles and 257 armored ones while the USAAF claimed 2.520 soft and 134 armored vehicles. Yet when No2 ORS examined the area they could only find 133 armored vehicles of which only 33 had been the victim of air attack. The stats were better for unarmored vehicles (cars, trucks, motorcycles) as 325 of 701 were victims of air attack but in both cases there was a chasm between claims and confirmed kills.

    Allied fighter bombers were fast and could engage enemy fighters but their speed worked against them in the ground attack role. For those missions a dive bomber would be preferable but neither the USAAF nor the RAF could be convinced to design and use such a plane. Officially the reason given was that such a slow and unmaneuverable plane would not survive in enemy airspace but the real reason was they did not want to spend resources for purely Army missions. 

    In the field the fighter bombers had a poor record against armored targets. Their guns were moderately accurate but had a low caliber and could not destroy armored vehicles. Their air to ground rockets had more destructive power but they were hopelessly inaccurate. An average Typhoon pilot, firing all eight rockets in a salvo, had roughly a 4% chance of hitting a target the size of a German tank in trials.  In the field of battle one would expect this percentage to be even lower.

    Against unarmored targets (like trucks) however their performance was more than adequate.

    The other major problem of fighter bombers was their limited armor. Unlike the Stuka and the Sturmovik they did not have adequate protection against A/A defenses. For this reason the German anti-aircraft defenses protecting important targets (bridges, supply bases etc) were able to extract a heavy toll on them.

    Despite these problems the Western Allies fielded large ground attack forces and these were used extensively in NW Europe. Even though they had serious limitations they certainly had an impact in the fighting. Although they were not a big threat for armored vehicles they did force the Germans to move supplies only at night.

    Overall this book is an excellent study of the evolution of RAF and USAAF CAS doctrine and it debunks postwar exaggerations of Allied air support.

    Note: In page 31 it is stated about the 1944 campaign in NW Europe: ‘During that campaign the Germans had been able to set up an air warning system against air attack based on the interception of support requests from British Army units.’

    This is a reference to the German exploitation of the Slidexcode system and plaintext traffic.

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    The Republic of Turkey remained neutral during most of WWII, while at the same time maintaining close economic relations with Germany. Through constant negotiations with Germany, Britain and the Soviet Union the Turkish leaders were successful in protecting their country’s territorial integrity.

    They finally joined the Allied cause and declared war on the Axis only in February 1945. 

    During the war Turkey, as a neutral power, had a major advantage since it could operate embassies in both Allied and Axis nations. This gave Turkish officials the opportunity to get valuable information from both sides. For this reason Turkish diplomatic communications became a target for Axis and Allied cryptanalysts.

    The Turks used mainly 4-figure codebooks (INKILAP, ZAFER, SAKARYA, CANKAYA, INONU, ISMET) enciphered with additive sequences.

    Turkish systems were attacked by several German agencies. The diplomatic codes were attacked by the Pers Z, Forschungsamt and OKW/Chi. Military systems by the OKL Chi Stelle, the Army’s Inspectorate 7/VI and OKW/Chi.

    Italy, Hungary and Finland also read Turkish traffic with significant success throughout the war.

    All the Axis powers took advantage of the fact that some of the Turkish codebooks were simply repaginations of previous versions.

    German effort

    The codebreaking department of the Foreign Ministry - Pers Z attacked Turkish diplomatic systems since 1934. These were continuously solved till the end of the war. There was a separate department for Turkish traffic headed by Dr. Hermann Scherschmidt.

    Goering’s Forschungsamt also read Turkish diplomatic traffic, especially that of the Moscow embassy.

    The codebreaking department of the Armed Forces High Command - OKW/Chi dealt with Turkish military and diplomatic traffic with good results. The Turkish desk had about 10 people and was headed by Dr Locker. According to Mettig, second in command of OKW/Chi in the period 1943-45, the solution of the Turkish traffic (especially from London, Paris and Moscow) was one of the major OKW/Chi achievements during the war.

    The Luftwaffe’s OKL Chi Stelle monitored Turkish AF traffic. According to chief cryptanalyst Ferdinand Voegele three simple systems were solved by forward units.

    The Army’s signal intelligence regiment KONA 4monitored Turkish traffic both military and police. The central agency OKH/Inspectorate 7/VI read Turkish systems and shared results with the Forschungsamt. One of the codes read was that used by the Turkish president when onboard the state yacht ‘Savarona’. Army cryptanalyst Dettmann, head of cryptanalysis in the Eastern Front, says in DF-112 that the results of the Yalta conference became known to the Germans through Turkish messages.

    Italian effort

    The Italians army’s cryptanalytic department, headed by General Gamba, attacked Turkish diplomatic and military attaché codes with success. These were solved both by physical compromise and cryptanalysis. Military and police traffic was intercepted and decoded by a small team assigned to an intercept station on the island of Rhodes. The Italians valued the intelligence gained from Turkish traffic, especially the information from the Moscow embassy.

    Hungarian effort

    The Hungariansput special emphasis on the solution of Turkish traffic and assigned their best cryptanalyst Titus Vass to the Turkish desk.

    Finnish effort

    The Finnish codebreaking department devoted a third of its cryptanalysts on Turkish traffic with the result that all the 4-figure codes were read.

    Allied effort

    The Western Allies were also interested in the Turkish diplomatic communications.

    The US Army’s Signal Security Agency started attacking Turkish and Arabic traffic in 1942. Its official history says:

    Late in 1942 work was initiated on the systems of those governments who use the Arabic and Turkish languages.  After a modest beginning the traffic of the following governments was read: ‘Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Transjordan, and Turkey. Of these, by far the most Important in production of valuable information and in extent of the task of solution were the Turkish systems.’

    Britain had been reading Turkish traffic for decades and continued to do so during WWII. Diplomatic traffic was worked on not at the famous Bletchley Park facility but at the Diplomatic section in Berkeley Street, London. The embassies monitored were London, Kuibyshev, Teheran, Budapest, Lisbon, Rome, Madrid, Stockholm, Berlin, Washington, Vichy, South America, Helsinki, Bucharest, Sofia and Tokyo. Results were shared with the Americans. Decoded messages allowed them to keep an eye on Turkish-German relations and Soviet territorial demands. 


    Turkish codes seem to have yielded against anyone who was willing to invest the necessary resources against them. Even though Turkey was not that important politically or economically the fact that it had embassies in Axis and Allied capitals made its traffic valuable for all the major participants of the war.

    The Axis gained information of great value especially from the Moscow embassy. The Allies used the decrypts in order to monitor Turkish foreign policy towards Germany and counter Soviet efforts to change the legal status of the Turkish Straits.

    Sources: TICOM reports I-22, I-63, I-103, I-119, I-128, DF-187B, DF-112, ‘European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II’ volumes 3,4,5,6,7 , Intelligence and National Security article: ‘No immunity: Signals intelligence and the European neutrals, 1939-45’, International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence article: ‘Left in the Dust: Italian Signals Intelligence, 1915-1943’, 'In the Name of Intelligence: Essays in Honor of Walter Pforzheimer', ‘The Achievements of the Signal Security Agency (SSA) in World War II’, Intelligence and National Security article: ‘Diplomatic Sigint and the British Official Mind during the Second World War: Soviet claims on Turkey, 1940-45’

    Acknowledgements: I have to thank Ralph Erskine for information on the British exploitation of Turkish codes.

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  • 03/15/13--07:10: Update
  • Time for some new TICOM reports:

    I-44 ‘Memorandum on speech encipherment by ORR Huettenhain and SDF Dr Fricke’ - 1945

    I-192 ‘Interrogation of Gustav Schade of OKM 4 SKL III and of the Reichspost and ReichsRundfunk’ - 1946


    I-208 ‘Interrogation report on Kurt Selchow former head of the Pers Z S department of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ - 1947

    Available from my Scribd and Google Docs accounts

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    In the final days of July 1944 the Allied forces fighting in Normandy were able to break out and threatened the German forces with annihilation. The German response was an attack near Mortainwith the goal of cutting off the Allied forces and restoring the front.

    The Mortain counterattack is the victim of two myths. The first one is that Allied fighter bombers single handedly defeated the German attack. I’ve covered this here. The other one is that the defending forces were forewarned thanks to ULTRA intelligence.

    For example ‘Why the Allies Won’ by Richard Overy says in page 174

    Intelligence on the counter-attack at Mortain was plentiful on the Allied side. The time when it would be launched was revealed through Ultra decrypts. Bradley was able to place forces in strongly fortified areas in front of the German threat. A little after midnight on 7 August the Panzer forces began their attack. One division under cover of darkness and early morning mist covered 10 miles. But when the mist finally cleared at midday, the German armour was subjected to an air attack of exceptional intensity. The German forces made no progress and suffered heavy losses. On that afternoon Bradley began to counter-attack. By the end of the following day, the German Panzer divisions were back where they had started, and faced irresistible pressure on either flank.

    Although the solution of German crypto systems provided valuable intelligence to the Allies that does not mean that every operation was betrayed from this source or that Allied units were always aware of the enemy plans.

    In the case of the Mortain battle it is true that the codebreakers of Bletchley Park were able to decode the German orders. However the information was sent just before the Germans attacked thus leaving no time for redeployment.

    The USAF history ‘D-Day 1944 Air Power over the Normandy Beaches and Beyond’ admits:

    On the evening of the 6th, orders went out for five Panzer divisions to attack through Mortain (which had already fallen to American troops) ninety minutes later--at 18:30 hours. ULTRA did not send out this message until midnight, but the German attack had itself been delayed in the field until just after midnight. The Allied signals arrived immediately before the German attack, offering the Americans no time whatsoever to make extensive plans or redeployments for the assault.

    Similar information is available from the official history ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War’, vol3 part 2, in pages 245-6

    Another emergency signal sent out at 20:01 reported that 2nd SS Panzer was to attack Mortain and then St Hilaire. The latter would be bombarded until midnight. The decrypt of JK II's affirmative reply to 2nd SS Panzer's request for support was signalled at 21:40. At 00:11 on 7 August another emergency signal from GC and CS reported JK II's statement that Seventh Army would attack west from the Sourdeval-Mortain area in the evening of 6 August with elements of five Panzer divisions. …...

    So the failure of the German attack was not due to the fact that Allied units were expecting them. Instead it was a result of standard military factors (low combat strength due to losses, low morale, lack of supplies, efficient defense by the American units etc)

    Sources: ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War’, vol3 part 2,, ‘The history of Hut 6’, ‘Why the Allies Won’, wikipedia

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  • 03/22/13--00:38: RAF 2nd TAF strength 1944-45
  • The 2ndTactical Air Force was a RAF group that supported the Allied troops fighting in Western Europe in the period 1944-45.

    Strength returns of 2nd TAF are available from ‘AIR 22-Air Ministry: Periodical Returns, Intelligence Summaries and Bulletins’

    2nd Tactical AF





    SE Fighters





    Army Coop




    Medium Bombers










    These numbers refer to operational aircraft.

    The fighters used were the Spitfire and P-51 Mustang together with the fighter/ground attack plane Typhoon. These planes make up the majority of 2nd TAF strength. At the same time there are a small number of medium bombers of the Mosquito, Mitchell and Boston types. There was also a small number of Auster observation aircraft.

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    In the summer of 1942 the German forces in the East managed to surprise the Soviet High Command by attacking in the area of Army Group South. The Germans together with their Rumanian, Hungarian and Italian Allies overwhelmed the Soviet troops and advanced far in the Soviet South towards the oil producing areas of Baku.

    However their efforts to clear the western part of the Volga were checked by the Soviet forces defending Stalingrad.

    In November ’42 the Soviets, after secretly massing their forces, counterattacked and used their mobile forces against the flanks of the German front that were defended by the German Allied nations. The result was the collapse of the front and the encirclement of the Stalingrad troops.

    How were the Soviets able to surprise their enemies? Didn’t German intelligence have any indication that powerful enemy forces were being moved close to the front?

    It seems that through signals intelligence the Germans were able to identify major concentrations in the area. However this information was discounted by the analysts of the central evaluation department Fremde Heere Ost (Foreign Armies East) because it did not agree with their preconceived motions.

    Let’s take a look at the relevant information.

    The signal intelligence service of the Luftwaffe performed well in the Eastern front thanks to the low security of the Soviet AF cryptosystems. According to postwar reports they were also able to identify enemy concentrations faster than their Army counterparts because the aerial units assigned to ground troops could not hold radio silence.

    Regarding the Stalingrad battle TICOM report I-41, p2 says: ‘Sigint units were the Cinderella of the GAF until the "STALINGRAD affair". III/LN. Rgt. 4 warned, and warned, that the Russians had assembled 5 Air Armies in the sector. After STALINGRAD, Sigint was held to be the main source of Intelligence.

    Army signal intelligence units were also able to detect new Soviet units close to Stalingrad. Alexis Dettmann, chief cryptanalyst at the Army’s cryptanalytic centre in the East HLS Ost (Intercept Control Station East) says in TICOM DF-112, p110:

     ‘3 .In the fall of 1942 the cryptanalytic section was able to determine the setting up of new Armies (62nd, 63rd, 64th, 65th… 69th) to the east of Stalingrad. Although these observations were constantly supplemented and confirmed, people at the highest level could not make up their minds to believe these reports. Only after the 64th army appeared in a sector of the front near Stalingrad was Foreign Armies East permitted to enter the other armies (with question marks!) on the chart of the Red Army and to present this at the discussion of the situation at the Fuhrer's headquarters without expecting to exposed to wild insults.

    Are these statements correct or were the Germans exaggerating?

    David Thomas in ‘Foreign Armies East and German Military Intelligence in Russia 1941-45’ has tried to evaluate the performance of the FHO by looking at the reports they issued during the war.

    According to that article, p269: ‘Nevertheless, signals intelligence was the basic source for most FHO estimates of the enemy situation. Unfortunately, when the results of signal reconnaissance consisted of tactical indicators that contradicted the strategic indicators of enemy intentions upon which FHO had already based its assumptions, FHO refused in some instances to modify its existing evaluation to accommodate the results of signal reconnaissance. Stalingrad is the locus classicus. On 11 October, the Leitstelle fur Nachrichtenaufklarung reported a comprehensive regroupment of Soviet forces between the Don and Volga, including the establishment of a new Soviet field headquarters, 'Don Front'. FHO evaluated the insertion of this headquarters, the regrouping of Soviet units in the zone of the Soviet Sixty-Third Army, and the enemy movements in front of Fourth Panzer Army as 'defensive enemy behaviour'. Another signal reconnaissance report submitted to FHO in November confirmed the existence of a large grouping of Soviet forces behind the bridgehead of Serafimovich and provided clear evidence that the Red Army had recognized the weaknesses of, and the boundary between, the Rumanian and Italian armies to the north of Stalingrad. However, this evaluation contradicted the forecast of Soviet intentions and fighting strength submitted by Gehlen in late August, 'Gedanken zur Weiterentwick-lung der Feindlage im Herbst und Winter'; specifically, the fundamental assumption that the Red Army would be unable to mount more than one winter offensive, because of insufficient manpower reserves after the summer campaign season.

    So if the Germans had more respect for their signal intelligence departments maybe history would be written differently…

    Sources: TICOM reports DF-112 and I-41, Journal of Contemporary History article: ‘Foreign Armies East and German Military Intelligence in Russia 1941-45’

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    The Panther is often castigated because it had a low serviceability rate, especially when it was first introduced in 1943. For example:

    1). ‘Panther Vs T-34: Ukraine 1943’, p33 says: ‘In contrast no German panzer unit equipped with Panther Ausf D or A model tanks was able to sustain an operation readiness rate above 35 percent for any sustained period in 1943.

    2). ‘Panther vs Sherman: Battle of the Bulge 1944’, p10 says: ‘The Panther's operational rate rose from an appalling 16 percent at the end of July 1943 to the merely wretched rate of 37 percent by December 1943.

    Hmmm only 35%-37%? That is embarrassingly low.

    Or is it?

    What was the general serviceability rate for all the German tanks in the East in the same time period? According to ‘Panzertruppen vol2, p110 the German rates peaked in June ’43 at 89% and then collapsed. The average for the second half of 1943 was 44%.

    Not much difference between 44% and 35% is there? Did the other German tanks also suffer from mechanical problems or were there other factors at play?

    Maybe the low rates were mainly caused by the heavy fighting and lack of maintenance? Just a thought…

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    The Italian campaign of WWII featured important battles and involved hundreds of thousands of German, Italian, American, British and French soldiers but for some reason authors usually devote little attention to it.

    A Hard Way to Make a War: The Allied Campaign in Italy in the Second World Waris a single volume history of the Italian campaign by Ian Gooderson who also wroteAir Power at the Battlefront’.

    This book covers the fighting in Sicily, the invasion of mainland Italy and all the major battles (Salerno, Gustav line, Anzio, Gothic line). In addition there is analysis of the political and strategic situation guiding the Allies and the Axis leaderships, the tactics that both sides developed and the overall cost of the campaign.

    After defeating the Axis forces in Tunisia in May 1943 the Anglo-Americans were faced with the difficult choice of what to do next. The British favored a peripheral strategy with the aim of attacking the soft underbelly of the Axis but the Americans did not want to invest resources in a secondary theatre, especially since they had to prepare for the invasion of France.

    In the end there was a compromise whereby powerful forces would invade Italy in order to force Italy out of the war and draw German units from Western Europe. However these operations were not to interfere with the planning of operation ‘Overlord’.

    In July 1943 the Allies landed in Sicily and after hard fighting moved inland and took over the island. The German forces in Gela put a fight and came close to overrunning the invasion beaches. It took massive aerial and naval support to throw them back.

    After the loss of Sicily the Italian Army and the King had decided to exit the war but the secret negotiations that followed were inconclusive. Unfortunately the Germans came to realize that the Italians were double crossing them and started moving units into Italy. When the Italians finally announced their surrender in September 1943 the Germans were ready to pounce and they quickly disarmed the Italian formations.

    The Allies landed again in Salerno and this operation was heavily opposed by German units forcing the Allies to once again rely on airpower and naval fire in order to keep the Germans from overrunning their forces.

    Once this operation succeeded the Allies expected the Germans to evacuate their forces from Southern Italy. In this aspect the Allies were betrayed by their faith in signals intelligence. Through diplomatic and military decrypts they learned that once the Italian mainland had been invaded the Germans would retreat to the north of the country. This was actually Hitler’s first response.

    However General Kesselring was determined to fight the Allies in the south and he did not want to give up ground without a fight. Obviously this was a strategy that appealed to Hitler and when the German strategy changed this caused a crisis for the Allied planners. As the author puts it ‘had the Germans been working to an elaborate deception scheme they could not have better misled the Allies and set them up for a complete and unexpected overturning of their strategic hopes in Italy’.

    The fighting in Italy was hard for the Allies since the terrain did not favor mobile operations. This meant that their superiority in tanks and vehicles could not be brought to bear. Instead the Germans were able to dictate their rate of advance through demolition of roads and bridges and heavy mining of the roads.

    Under the command of General Kesselring the German forces established defensive positions in the South and blocked the Allied advance.  The Allies tried to bypass the Gustav line by landing in Anzio. Their plan did not work since the Germans rushed units to the area and were able to contain the bridgehead for several months. Eventually attrition from the Anzio battle and the Allied offensives against the Gustav line forced the Germans to retreat farther north.

    After mid ‘44 many Allied formations were withdrawn for operation Dragoon and the fighting slowed down. In April 1945 the German forces in Italy surrendered.

    In the end the fighting in Italy was hard both for the Allies and the Germans.

    For the Allies the Italian geography negated their advantage in mobile warfare and forced them to advance slowly. Efforts to bypass the German defenses with naval landings were only partially successful due to lack of landing ships and troops, as they were needed for the invasion of France.

    The Germans engaged in one of the most successful defensive campaigns in history but on the other hand the whole theatre was a drain on their limited resources.

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  • 04/02/13--00:03: Support the cause
  • Time for a social experiment. I’ve seen that many sites have added a donate button and I have to say that I’m intrigued.

    So far I’ve written countless essays on various aspects of WWII. A lot of the information that I have presented is not available anywhere else. I’ve also uploaded a large number of original archival material that you can enjoy for free but cost me a four figure sum. With additional funds I could hire a researcher to find more TICOM reports and related documents.

    So how much is this blogsite worth to you? A coffee costs around 5 euro, an academic article 33 (!!!). A good book even more.

    Vote with your wallet dear reader!

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    In my piece on the T-34 tank I said that postwar Soviet tanks (T-55, T-62, T-72, T-64, T-80) were built on the same principles as the T-34 with unfortunate consequences for the countries that had to use them in combat.

    Soviet tanks have performed poorly in WWII, Korea, in the Middle East wars between the Israelis and Arabs and in Gulf War I, in the sense that they have suffered disproportionate losses against tanks that were comparable to them in general characteristics.

    It is fascinating to see that the same problems are mentioned in US and Israeli reports separated by decades and referring to different vehicles. From the T-34 in the 1940’s to the T-62 in the Yom Kippur war the same limitations are noted!

    Hull size

    The T-34 had a huge problem with internal space due to several factors:

    1). a large engine that took up roughly half of internal volume

    2). its Christie suspension

    3). the sloped armor on the sides and back of the vehicle

    Postwar tanks did not have these faults but they also suffered from limited internal space since it was a design choice to limit the weight and size of these vehicles.

    The result was that all the Soviet tanks were smaller and lighter than their Western contemporaries like the Centurion, M-48 and M-60. This supposedly gave them an advantage in mobility and presented a smaller target at long distances.

    However there was a price to pay:

    1). The smaller hull affected the performance of the crew and led to fatigue. For example an Israeli evaluation says: ‘As regard to human engineering the best were the Patton tanks (M60/48), then the Centurion and way behind the T-62/55 tanks. The meaning is that the crews of the Patton and Centurion tanks could fight longer periods of time without being exhausted relative to the crews in the T-62/55 tanks.’ [Source: ‘M60 Vs T-62: Cold War Combatants 1956-92’, p39]

    2). Compared to Western tanks a smaller number of rounds could be carried. For example the T-34/76 carried 77 rounds but the T-34/85 carried only 56 and 16 of these had to be stored in the turret. In comparison the Pz IV had 87 rounds and the Panther 82.

    The Centurion, M-48 and M-60 had about 60 rounds compared to about 40 in the T-55, T-62, T-72. The ability to carry more ammo meant that tanks did not have to leave the battle in order to resupply often. This was noted by the Israelis:

    The amount of gun rounds inside the Patton (M60A1, M60, M48) and the Centurion tanks is remarkably higher (about 60 rounds in each) than in the T-62 and T-55 tanks (less than 40 rounds). The meaning is that on average the T-62 and T-55 tanks should leave their active fight and firing positions for refilling of gun ammunition [more often] than the other tanks, which means that on average the percentage of effective tanks in each moment is smaller in T-62 and T-55 units than in the units of the other tank types.’ [Source: ‘M60 Vs T-62: Cold War Combatants 1956-92’, p38]

    3). By having ammo and fuel in a small space any penetration of the tank usually led to catastrophic loss of the vehicle and death of the crew. As Zaloga puts it in ‘T-34-85 vs M26 Pershing: Korea 1950’, p23:

    Armor data provides only part of the picture of a tank's protection. Other factors in assessing the vulnerability of a tank include the internal arrangement of fuel and ammunition. The T-34-85 is a clear example of the trade-off between the benefits and drawbacks of steeply angled protective armor. Although the T-34's sloped sides reduced the likelihood of the tank being penetrated by enemy projectiles, it also led to a decrease in internal hull volume. In the event that the T-34 was penetrated, the projectile was far more likely to produce catastrophic damage among the fuel and ammunition stored in such a small space. The side sponsors of the T-34's fighting compartment in particular contained fuel cells that if penetrated could lead to fire and the destruction of the tank.

    The same problem was identified by the Israelis after the Yom Kippur war. According to ‘M60 Vs T-62: Cold War Combatants 1956-92’, p39:

    ‘Survivability: The silhouette of the T-62 and T-55 tanks is smaller than [that] of the other tanks and the same is true with the silhouette of their turret. One of the most [sic] disadvantages of T-62/55 tanks is their small internal volume. The meaning is that all the internal systems are too close and when one system is hit after penetration, in most cases another system or systems are also damaged or getting out of action. Because of the small internal volume there is in the T-55 tank a fuel tank combined with gun ammunition stowage in the right front corner of the hull (I am not sure if it is the same in the T-62 tank)[it is]. The meaning is absolute destruction and explosion of the tank in case of a penetration. Analysis based up tests and war analysis showed that the improved Centurion and M60A1 were more or less on the same level survivability. Next came the M48 and Tiran 4/5 and finally the Sherman.

    This problem became worse and worse as tank gun calibers grew and more powerful ammo was carried. Zaloga says in ‘M1 Abrams Vs T-72 Ural’, p27 that the T-55 carried 220kg of propellant, the T-62 310kg and the T-72 440 kg.

    The result:


    Turret size

    The T-34/76 had a very cramped turret. An evaluation by US personnel noted:

    The main weakness is that it is very tight. The Americans couldn't understand how our tankers could fit inside during a winter, when they wear sheepskin jackets

    Postwar Soviet tanks had a new hemispherical turret design. This had excellent ballistic protection due to the sloped design but it was very cramped and it seriously affected crew performance and gun depression.

    Reload rates

    The cramped interior of Soviet tanks limited the speed with which the crew could operate the gun.

    The T-34 had a low reload rate of about 4 rounds per minute versus 2-3 times that in German and Western tanks. The same problem was noted in postwar Soviet tanks of the T-55 and T-62 type.

    The Soviets tried to solve this problem by installing an autoloader in the T-64, T-72 and T-80 tanks.  This equipment however has a bad reputation due to many cases of malfunction when it was first introduced.

    Gun depression

    Soviet tanks from the T-34 onwards had poor gun depression which meant they could not fight in hull down position. Western tanks used this tactic with success especially in the Golan front during the Yom Kippur war. From various Osprey books I collected the following statistics:

                Gun elevation

    up (+)

    down (-)

    T-34/76 L-11



    T-34/76 F-34






    Pz III 50mm



    Pz IV KwK 40






    Sherman M3



    Sherman M1



























    An Israeli report noted: ‘The T-62 and T-55 tanks have [limited] depression of their gun, up to about -6 to -7 degrees, whereas all the others have gun depression of about -10 degrees. The meaning is that in many cases the T-62 and the T-55 tanks, while in firing position (behind a fold or a small hill) did not have enough depression and so had to expose themselves more and be more vulnerable to the other side.’ [Source: ‘M60 Vs T-62: Cold War Combatants 1956-92’, p38]

    Gun performance

    Soviet tank guns of WWII developed lower pressure than Western ones with the result that their accuracy and penetration at long ranges suffered. Did the same problem affect postwar vehicles?

    The Israelis found the gun of the T-62 to be quite powerful. However a US test of its accuracy showed that after 1km its ability to hit targets was limited. The M-60’s 105mm was significantly more accurate at long ranges. [Source: ‘M60 Vs T-62: Cold War Combatants 1956-92’, p50-52]


    The T-34 had poor stability over rough terrain due to its Christie suspension.  Postwar Soviet tanks had torsion bar suspension but the ride continued to be uncomfortable and tiring for the crew.

    The dogma of quantity over quality

    Why did all the Soviet tanks suffer from the same limitations? The answer is that the Soviet military doctrine emphasized the importance of numbers and the inevitability of heavy casualties. If you expect your tanks to be destroyed quickly then it doesn’t make sense to build expensive ones lavishly equipped with armor and with an emphasis on crew comfort. Instead their goal was to keep weight and size down so they could out produce the West.

    The factories of the Eastern bloc churned out thousands of tanks during the cold war and certainly had a big numerical advantage against the West. They also succeeded in building vehicles that were well armed and armored for their time. However their emphasis on production numbers meant that soft flaws (cramped interior, poor gun depression etc) limited their performance in the battlefield.

    Western tanks were built on different lines and although they usually had comparable weapons and armor ‘on paper’ in the field of battle they outperformed their Eastern counterparts.

    Sources:  various Osprey booksincludingT-34-85 vs M26 Pershing: Korea 1950, Centurion Vs T-55: Yom Kippur War 1973,  M60 Vs T-62: Cold War Combatants 1956-92’, ‘M1 Abrams vs T-72 Ural: Operation Desert Storm 1991’, T-34 Aberdeen evaluation, WWII Myths - T-34 Best Tank of the war

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    Several sources (books, magazines, sites) mention that the Germans could have produced more armaments in WWII if they had forced their workers to work more than one shift per day. The belief that the Germans underutilized their workforce is supposedly based on a statement by Albert Speer.

    The actual statement is the following from ‘Inside the Third Reich’, p304:

    Of all the urgent questions that weighed upon me during my early weeks in office, solution of the labor problem was the most pressing. Late one evening in the middle of March, i inspected one of the leading Berlin armaments plants, Rheinmetall-Borsig, and found its workshops filled with valuable machinery, but unused. There were not enough workers to man a second shift. Similar conditions prevailed in other factories.

    The reason for the manpower shortage was that there was also demand from the armed forces. The same person could not be at the front and in the factory.

    The Germans tried to solve this problem by using forced and slave labor.

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    A very interesting WWII espionage mystery is mentioned in the book ‘The German Penetration of SOE: France 1941-1944, p155. The source of this story was Ernst Vogt, an interpreter at the Sicherheitsdienst HQ in Paris.

    According to Vogt in late 1944 - early ’45 Allied agents were parachuted into Germany as a result of a ‘radio-game’. It seems the organization sending the agents had not realized that their network was under German control. Vogt says that it was probably ‘an American espionage service in London’ (OSS?).

    One day three agents were parachuted and immediately taken into custody. These men spoke perfect German and they claimed that they were SS Sturmbannführersand should be released.

    Vogt’s superior was Hans Josef Kieffer, commandant at the SD HQ at 84 Avenue Foch in Paris. Kieffer was also SS Sturmbannführer. When the men produced their id cards Kieffer showed them his and pointed out that they were different. This did not faze the captured men. They responded that ‘yours is out of date. All SD identity cards are renewable three-monthly now.’

    In order to solve this mystery Kieffer sent Vogt to Berlin to report to his superior Horst Kopkow. When Kopkow saw the identity cards he said: ‘it had been intended to call in the existing ones and to issue new ones in this form’ ‘but none in this form had been issued yet’.

    So there you have it! A genuine mystery. Who were these men? Who did they work for? and how did they manage to find out about the new SS id scheme?

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  • 04/12/13--00:26: Victory through airpower
  • When the United States entered WWII in 1941 there were many discussions regarding the correct strategy that the US leadership should follow. Books and articles appeared that promoted whatever the author believed was the correct response, from a larger airforce at the expense of Army and Navy to a Germany first strategy.

    One of these books was ‘Victory through airpower’ by aviation pioneer Alexander de Seversky.
    Seversky was born in Georgia that was then part of the Russian Empire. His father was one of the first Russian aviators and he taught him how to operate the aircraft. In WWI he became a naval aviator but was seriously wounded in a mission and his leg had to be amputated. Despite this he continued to fly and became the leading naval ace of the war.

    With the collapse of the Tsarist regime and the communist revolution Seversky left Russia and immigrated to the US where he continued to work on aviation projects and in the 1920’s he founded the Seversky Aero Corporation which later became Republic Aviation. In 1928 he became a major in the Army Air Corps Reserve.

    Seversky was a passionate advocate of airpower and strategic bombing. His book came out in 1942 and became a hit with the public. One of the persons who read it and was impressed by the reasoning was the legendary animator Walt Disney. He was such a supporter of Seversky’s ideas that he financed an animated film based on the book and had Seversky narrate parts of it.

    The main point of the book was that aviation and long range bombers would allow the US to destroy the Axis production centers without the need for costly ground campaigns.

    I found the movie to be both entertaining and thought provoking. You can download it or view it on

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    Books relying on Soviet sources claim that in the fighting in the Crimea in 1944 most of the Axis troops were killed or captured with only a handful escaping.

    For example ‘When Titans clashed: how the Red Army stopped Hitler’ by Glantz and House says in page 191 ‘Somewhat less than 40,000 men of Seventeenth Army's original force of 150,000 made it out of the Crimea.

    ‘World at Arms: A Global History of World War II’ by Gerhard L. Weinberg says in page 671 ‘By mid-May the 120,000 men formally organized as the 17th German Army had been crushed. Only a small proportion was evacuated, there was no long siege as in 1941-42. The Soviet victory was one of the most complete, if least known, of the war.

    These statements are not correct. The Germans and Rumanians were able to evacuate 121.000 men by sea and 24.500 by air.

    Rumanian website has a detailed overview of the naval operations:

    The Romanian Royal Navy named the evacuation of Crimea Operation "60,000", because the number of Romanian troops still found in the peninsula was around 62,000 – 65,000 in April 1944. This operation was executed in two phases: the first one between 12 April and 5 May and, the most dramatic, between 6 and 13 May.


    In total during the first phase of the operation, between 14 and 27 April 1944, 73,058 people left Crimea by sea:

    • 20,779 Romanians, of which 2,296 wounded

    • 28,394 Germans, din care 4.995 wounded

    • 723 Slovaks

    • 15,055 Russian volunteers

    • 2,559 POWs

    • 3,748 civilians

    Of these about 1,5% died during the crossing. One German tanker and one lighter, representing 8% of the tonnage engaged in the operation, were sunk (about 3,000 tons) and several Romanian transport ships were damaged. One Romanian destroyer and two armed transport pontoons, as well as two German submarine hunters were damaged. On the other side the losses were also important. 12 VVS aircraft were shot down, one submarine and one motor torpedo boat were sunk. Another submarine was seriouslt damaged.


    In this second phase of the evacuation, 47,825 de men were transported by sea to Constanta: 15,078 Romanians, 28,992 Germans and 3.755 Soviets (volunteers, POWs and civilians).About 10,000 men were lost during the crossing , of which some 4,000 were Romanians.


    In total, between 14 April – 13 May 1944, 120,853 men and 22,548 tone of cargo were evacuated by sea from Crimea:

    • 36.557 Romanians, of which 4,262 wounded

    • 58,486 Germans, of which 12,027 wounded

    • 723 Slovaks

    • 15,391 Soviet volunteers

    • 2.581 POWs

    • 7.115 civilians

    The Romanian Royal Navy received congratulations from the grand admiral Karl Dönitz, the commander of the Kriegsmarine, and from vice admiral Helmuth Brinkmann, commander of the German forces in the Black Sea, for the way it operated during the evacuation.

    In addition to these numbers 21.457 men were evacuated by the Luftwaffe and 3.056 by the Rumanian AF. [Source: ‘Eagle in Flames: The Fall of the Luftwaffe’, p201]

    How do we know that the aforementioned statistics are correct? During this period the codebreakers of Bletchley Park were able to follow the military operations in the Crimea by reading messages enciphered on the Enigma machine. The official history ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War’, volume 3 part 1 page 41 says: ‘The evacuation was covered in great detail by Sigint. It was carried out by the Navy and the GAF, the decrypts showing that 121.000 men were taken off by sea and 21.500 by air.

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  • 04/16/13--23:38: Update
  • Time for some new reports:

    CSDIC/CMF/Y36 - First detailed interrogation report on one German army intercept PW (Reudelsdorff) - 1945

    I-23 ‘Interrogation of Major Ernst Hertzer, German Army Signals Intelligence Service (KONA 1)’ - 1945

    I-103 'Second Interrogation of Reg.Rat Hermann Scherschmidt of Pers Z S Auswaertiges Amt, on Turkish and Bulgarian systems’ - 1945

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    The Kingdom of Yugoslaviawas one of the states that were created when the old Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed at the end of WWI. The country covered a large area in the Balkans but was politically unstable since it was made up of a diverse group of peoples (Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Montenegrins).

    Yugoslavia was part of the Little Entente organized by France. Although its foreign policy was pro-Allied it did not declare war on Germany in 1939. The defeat of France in 1940 caught the Yugoslav leaders by surprise and forced them to adopt a pro Axis policy. This change however was opposed by a group of military officers and in March 1941 a coup replaced the regent Prince Paulwith General Dušan Simović. This maneuver (thought to be organized by the British) infuriated Hitler and he ordered that the country was to be destroyed as a political entity. In April Yugoslav troops were quickly overrun by German forces and a period of occupation and internal strife began.

    During the occupation the old antagonisms between ethnicities (Serbs vs Croats) and political movements (Right vs Left) resurfaced and led to a multisided civil war. The Chetniks of General Mihailović fought the Communist Partisans of Marshall Tito and both attacked the collaborationist government of Milan Nedic, the German and Italian occupation troops and the Croat forces of Ante Pavelić.

    All sides took to heart the motto ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. This meant that at times some resistance group would make a deal with the occupation authorities and agree to leave them alone so both could attack another group. The results of this widespread conflict were mass destruction of property and loss of lives as each group attacked the villages that supported their enemies.

    During the period 1941-44 the Germans mounted major operations against the resistance movements but they could not destroy them. In their war against the Chetniks and the Partisans however they took advantage of signals intelligence. The resistance groups used codes that could not withstand a serious cryptanalytic attack and their cipher clerks made many mistakes that facilitated solution. By reading the traffic of Tito and Mihailović the Germans could build up the OOB of their organizations, identify important personalities and anticipate enemy operations.

    At the same time the British also used cryptanalysis in order to monitor the internal Yugoslav situation and decide which resistance group they should give supplies to. Their ability to decode the Enigma cipher machine meant that they could use German military messages to see if the information coming from the Chetniks and the Partisans was corroborated by official German reports. They also read Chetnik and Partisan messages including the clandestine traffic between Moscow and Tito (this program was called ISCOT).

    German effort

    According to post war interrogations of Army personnel Partisan and Chetnik communications were intercepted and decoded both by forward units in the Balkans and by the central department in Berlin.

    A small detachment under Lieutenant Wollny was based in Belgrade and came under the control of KONA 4 (Kommandeur der Nachrichtenaufklärung - Signals Intelligence Regiment) covering the Balkans. The few systems that resisted attack were handled by the Balkan department of OKH/Inspectorate 7/VI headed by councilor Bailovic.

    Most of the Mihailović traffic was single and double columnar transposition with the same key being used for both cages. The keyword was taken from a novel. This traffic was solved thanks to the stereotyped beginnings and endings of the reports (many messages ended with the signature ‘GENERAL DRAZA MIHAJLOVIC’) or operator mistakes and it was possible, in some cases, to retrieve the book that was used as a key source. According to Army cryptanalyst Herzfeld (assigned to the central department at that time) 70% of the messages were solved. The success rates given by Reudelsdorff (a member of the Wollny unit) were 95% for simple transposition and 55% for double transposition.

    The traffic allowed the Germans to create a card index of Chetnik personalities and follow the movement of their units in Yugoslavia. Some of the messages were particularly noteworthy since they showed that Mihailović greatly distrusted his British liaison officers and suspected them of colluding with Tito.

    The traffic of Tito’s units was enciphered with a numerical monoalphabetic cipher consisting of a one or two digit number substituted for each letter. A short repeating additive sometimes based on a key-word was used for superencipherment. This traffic was also tackled with significant success (according to Herzfeld all the traffic was read once the cipher procedure was established) till May ’44 when apparently the Partisans started using non-repeating additive sequences (this system was called ‘Novo Sifra’). For a while the new system proved secure but regional commands obviously found it cumbersome and reverted to old insecure systems. Thus the Germans could read some Partisan traffic even after mid ’44.

    The most important messages were those from Tito’s HQ to the regional commands in Croatia, Montenegro, East Bosnia, Dalmatia and Slavonia. The intercepted messages allowed the Germans to identify the Partisan personalities, the OOB of their units and anticipate enemy operations. They also showed that Tito had an extensive espionage network throughout the country.

    Apart from cryptanalysis the Germans had other ways to gain information. Messages between Tito and Moscow were sent by radio and by courier. During the war some of these couriers fell into German hands with the result that Tito’s political maneuvers could be followed. In 1943 they were surprised to learn that Moscow had ordered him to assist the German forces in case of Allied invasion of the Adriatic coast!

    Italian effort

    The Italian Army’s Intelligence agency SIM (Servizio Informazioni Militari) had a cryptanalytic department that successfully solved Yugoslav codes from the 1930’s up to 1941. During the occupation of Yugoslavia, the Slavic desk turned its attention to the communications of partisan groups and by mid 1943 had solved two systems used by the Chetniks and one used by Tito’s Partisans.

    British effort

    The Brits first established contact with resistance movements in September 1941. During the period 1941-44 they monitored the internal situation in Yugoslavia by decoding German military, police and Abwehr messages. Messages between Tito and Moscow were read from 1943 onwards. From the autumn of ’43 Internal traffic of the Chetniks and the Partisans was monitored and decoded from a station in Bari, Italy.

    The Enigma traffic in 1942 revealed that Mihailović had become a problem for the German occupation authorities and there were plans to capture him. Intercepted messages showed that the Chetniks were fighting against the Germans and had captured the city of Foca (a town south-east of Sarajevo). This news contradicted the version given by European papers (probably with Moscow’s blessing) that attributed the victory to Tito’s partisans.

    By 1943 the British were concerned by Mihailović’s decision to conserve his forces for the period of liberation. The SOE organization was particularly critical of the Chetniks and favored the Partisans. In the first half of the year Enigma messages provided detailed coverage of the major anti-partisan operations Weiss and Schwarz. All these operations were inconclusive as they inflicted heavy losses on the resistance movements but failed to destroy them or capture Mihailović and Tito. The Enigma traffic revealed that the fighting ability of the Chetnik units was inferior to that of the Partisans and that there was cooperation between Chetniks and Italians. However no indication of Chetnik collaboration with the Germans was found. Another benefit of the decoded Enigma messages was the discovery that the Germans were reading Chetnik and Partisan traffic.

    In the course of the year Enigma messages showed that German authorities considered the Chetniks as a threat and wanted to arrest Mihailović however at the same time there was evidence of cooperation between Chetnik groups and the Germans against the Partisans. By the end of 1943 these reports led to a change in British policy as Mihailović was considered to be holding back his units while the Partisans were engaged in major operations. The Partisans had also won battles against the Chetniks in the ongoing civil war. The British thus increased supplies to the Partisans while Mihailović received virtually no supplies after November 1943. In September 1943 the Italian surrender meant that Italian divisions laid down their arms and many were disarmed by the Partisans. This was a huge boost of their combat power as overnight they captured heavy weapons and ammunition. Combined with the political decision to back Tito this meant that the Partisans were now the rising force in Yugoslavia.

    In 1944 decoded messages showed that Mihailović was hard pressed by the Partisans and the loss of British support. As his forces failed to hold down Axis units the Allied military missions attached to his forces were recalled by May ’44. At the same time the Partisans increased their sabotage operations and attacked garrisons of satellite troops. Major German operations in Zagreb, Sarajevo area and Bosnia were again inconclusive as they inflicted heavy casualties but did not destroy the Partisans or permanently remove them from these areas. In the second half of ’44 the country fell into Tito’s hands as the Germans evacuated Southeastern Europe.


    The Axis occupation of Yugoslavia unleashed the dormant nationalistic forces inside the country and led to a civil war between different ethnic and political groups such as the Croats, Serbs, Communists and Royalists.

    The Germans and Italians tried to destroy the Chetniks and the Partisans through military force but they could not concentrate large enough forces to cover the whole country. In their campaign against the resistance movements they had to rely on signals intelligence. According to postwar interrogations the interception and exploitation of Chetnik and Partisan communications produced good results.

    From their side the British also used signals intelligence to guide their policy versus Tito and Mihailović. Initially they followed the Yugoslav government in Exile in supporting Mihailović. However the information from German traffic showed that Tito’s forces were defeating the Chetniks in the ongoing civil war and that they were not holding back their forces but were attacking Axis units and destroying rail lines.  Since the British goal was to divert as many German units as possible to Yugoslavia it makes sense that they chose to back Tito in 1943.

    This decision has been criticized postwar and several authors claim that communist ‘fellow travelers’ or Soviet agents had a hand in the change of policy. Although this might be true up to a point there is no doubt that British policy was guided by the signals intelligence coming from German and Yugoslav sources. The decoded messages showed that the Partisans were able to fight and survive against German and Italian offensives and at the same time defeat the Chetniks. In 1943-44 with operation ‘Overlord’ coming up the Allies needed to draw as many German units as possible away from Western Europe. In the eyes of the British leadership the Partisan movement in Yugoslavia could achieve this goal. Of course this meant that postwar the country would fall to the communists but it seems that was a price that Churchill was willing to pay.

    Sources: TICOM reports I-51, I-115, I-205, CSDIC/CMF/Y36 , CSDIC (U.K.) SIR 1704, ‘British intelligence in the Second world war’ vol3 part1, ‘European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II’ volumes 1,2 and 4, ‘The Secret Front:Nazi Political Espionage 1938-1945’, ‘The history of Hut 6’ vol1, ‘Action This Day: From the Breaking of the Enigma Code to the Birth of the Modern Computer’

    Acknowledgements: I have to thank Ralph Erskine for information on the British exploitation of Partisan and Chetnik codes.

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    Back in April 2012 I uploaded TICOM report DF-114‘German Cryptanalytic device for solution of M-209 traffic’.

    This report is a translation of a German document retrieved in 1947. It describes a cryptanalytic device used by German codebreakers against the US M-209 cipher machine.

    The only other reference in TICOM documents is in I-149 ‘Report by Uffz. Karrenberg and Colleagues on Allied Cipher Machines’ which says:

    A cryptanalytic party, numbering about 20 men, under Wm. ENGELHARDT also worked with Senior Signals Recce Commander Oberst KOPP. The ENGELHARDT party worked on British and U.S. systems, using, among other things, an electrically driven apparatus constructed by themselves. (This was a heavy, black-painted metal box, measuring approximately 50 x 50 X 40 cm, composed of two parts of about equal size. In front of the machine was a keyboard, like a teleprinter. The machine was fitted in the upper part with a set of indicating lamps; when a key was depressed, a letter was illuminated above, as on the German cypher machine). The construction and function of this apparatus, and the systems with which it dealt, are unknown to us. It is alleged that complete solutions (not breaks-in) were achieved by mean of this machine.’

    Thankfully an article in a German magazine had an interview with one of the persons who designed and used it during the war:
    So when I posted that report I expected that people would be interested in the fact that the Germans had their own bombe. I also thought that someone would be able to explain the operating principle of the machine but again this hasn’t happened. What’s up with that?

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