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Military and intelligence history mostly dealing with World War II.

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    In the 1930’s Hitler’s foreign policy was focused on dismantling the Treaty of Versailles that was keeping Germany militarily weak.

    First compulsory military service was reintroduced in 1935, then the Rhineland was remilitarized in 1936 and finally the Sudeten territories of Czechoslovakia were annexed by the Reich in 1938.

    In the diplomatic field the Germans were able to outmaneuver their British and French adversaries mainly thanks to two factors.

    One was a disinformation campaign that convinced Western leaders of the Luftwaffe’s destructive power. 

    The other was their success in acquiring secret intelligence. The Forschungsamt, Goering’s personal intelligence agency, was able to decode French diplomatic communications (probably physically compromised) and eavesdrop on telephone conversations of politicians and diplomats (especially Czech president Benes and his ambassador in London Masaryk!). Thus Hitler was always one step ahead of his rivals.

    In addition to these successes ‘European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II’ volumes 1 and 7 reveal another very interesting case. Apparently during the negotiations regarding the fate of the Sudetenland German codebreakers were able to solve Prime Minister Chamberlain’s messages to London. EASI vol1, p21 says that ‘Hitler once delayed a conference with Chamberlain for several hours in order to get such decodes’.
    The source for this information is listed as IF-132‘Das Forschungsamt des Luftfahrtminsteriums - Hq USFET Weekly Intelligence summary # 12, 4 Oct. 1945’ . Unfortunately I do not have this document.

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    Well it’s true that you can find anything online if you search for it! Site janeckovokrypto has  pictures and short biographies of countless WWII codebreakers (Americans, British, German, Polish etc). Interesting site.

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    A very interesting article regarding the effects of ULTRA intelligence against the Italian Navy’s supply convoys is available from the Naval War College Review.

    The article is ‘The Other Ultra: Signal Intelligence and the Battle to Supply Rommel's Attack toward Suez’ by Vincent P. O'Hara and Enrico Cernuschi. The authors are critical of the view that codebreaking allowed the Brits to sink Rommel’s supplies and stopped the Axis advance towards Egypt.

    According to the authors: ‘This article examines the impact of intelligence in the war against Axis shipping in the two months leading up to the battle of Alam el Halfa, which concluded on 2 September 1942. It demonstrates that Ultra information was not always accurate or timely and that Hinsley overstates Ultra ’s impact by crediting it with sinkings that had nothing to do with either signals intelligence (SIGINT) or traffic to Africa. It also casts light on the role of the Italian navy’s intelligence service, the Servizio Informazioni Segreto (SIS). The SIS provided intelligence that often offset the timely and relevant Ultra SIGINT that Britain did possess. Its code breakers enabled Supermarina, the operational headquarters, located in Rome, of the Regia Marina, the Italian navy, to read, often in less than an hour, intercepted low-grade radio encryptions from British aircraft, and, more slowly, first-class ciphers from warships and land bases. Supermarina’s communications and command system disseminated information in near real time, thereby amplifying the operational value of its SIGINT. This is a fact that the British were unaware of at the time and that has remained virtually unknown since.

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  • 05/02/13--02:45: New cryptology site
  • Retired CERN engineer and cryptologic historian Frode Weierud has started a blogsite called CryptoCellar Tales.

    Frode was the first person who was able to give me information on the Russian Fish story. His knowledge of German WWII cryptology is encyclopedic.

    My advice is to follow his site!

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    I’ve already given some information on the secretive Irish codebreakers of WWII. Mr David Mee has uploaded a few pages from the book ‘G2, Irish Military Intelligence for the period 1918-45’ by Maurice Walsh.

    These mention the arrest of German agents and the examination of their cipher systems. They also reveal cooperation between the Irish unit and Bletchley Park.

    There is also a nice picture of dr Richard Hayes, the top cryptanalyst, whom the British called ‘extremely able’.

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    I’ve seen online and also in books statements of the type ‘well the Panther tank was better than the M4 Sherman and the T-34 but it was much heavier than them so it should actually be compared with Allied heavy tanks like the M26 and IS-2.

    Was the Panther a ‘heavy’ tank? Should it be compared to the Allied mediums or with their heavy tanks?

    In terms of weight the Panther at ~45t was definitely heavier than the Sherman and the T-34 (28-33t depending on the model). The Panther was also considerably heavier than the standard German medium tanks Pz III (23t) and Pz IV (25t). So in that sense the Panther was a heavy vehicle.

    However whether a tank was classified as a medium or heavy was dependent on its role in the battlefield. There are two reasons why the German classification of the Panther as a medium tank is correct:

    1). Heavy tanks like the Tiger were used in specialized Heavy Tank Battalions (Schwere Panzer- Abteilung). These units were small (about 45 tanks) and were used at the points of main effort. The Panther on the other hand was used in the standard Panzer Divisions. The goal was to completely reequip the Panzer divisions with the Panther as the main vehicle but due to production shortfalls each division had one battalion equipped with the Pz IV and one with the Panther.

    2). The Tiger I and King Tigertanks were built in small numbers. Panther production on the other hand was substantial. In the period 1943-45we have 6,132 Panthers which can be compared to 6,686 Pz IV and 1,761 Tigers.

    Sources:  Panzertruppen’ vol2, ‘Sledgehammers: Strengths and Flaws of Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II’, ‘Waffen und Geheimwaffen des deutschen Heeres 1933 – 1945’

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    Here are detailed production statistics for German armored vehicles. Source is ‘Waffen und Geheimwaffen des deutschen Heeres 1933 – 1945’.









    Mobelwagen 37mm




    Wirbelwind 20mm




    Ostwind 37mm




    Kubelblitz 30mm



    Stug III 75mm L/24





    Stug III 75mm L/43



    Stug III 75mm L/48






    Stug III 105mm FH18






    Stug III Gesch 33



    Stu Flammwagen













    Stug IV 75mm L/48





    Jagd IV 75mm L/48



    Sturm IV 150mm





    Pz IV/70 (V) Pak42




    Pz IV/70 (A) Pak42




    Tiger I








    Sturm Morser Tiger



    Befehls Pz VI



    Tiger II














    Berge Panzer V










    Pz IV 75mm L/24






    Pz IV 75mm L/43




    Pz IV 75mm L/48





    Berge Panzer IV




    Beobachtungs Pz IV




    Befehls-Panzer IV



    Pz III 37mm




    Pz III 50mm L/42





    Pz III 50mm L/60





    Pz III 75mm L/24




    Pz III flammenwefer



    Berge-Pz III



    Beobachtungs Pz III




    Tauch-Pz III



    Pz 38






    Pz 38 76.2mm




    Pz 38 Marder III





    Pz 38 Grille





    Pz 38 Aufklarer



    Pz 38 20mm Flak




    JagdPz Hetzer




    Berge Pz 38




    Pz II






    Pz II F





    Pz II Luchs





    Pz II Marder II




    Pz II 76.2mm Pak




    Pz II le.F.H Wespe




    Pz I C



    Pz I F



    Pz I sJG 33



    Pz 47mm Pak(t)













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    The reports I’ve used to write about Axis signals intelligence in WWII are mainly those prepared under the TICOMprogram.

    A few days ago Frode Weierud pointed out that ‘A more serious problem is the lack of good, verifiable sources. Good scientific and historical research mandates that one try to use multiple sources, but with cryptology one is often happy to have just one single written source. The TICOM documents fall into this category. A single document does not always tell the full story and sometimes the information is incomplete and sometimes even wrong. The TICOM documents should be looked upon more as research notes than final research reports.

    Now I agree with Frode that information from a single source cannot be thought to be 100% correct without further verification. However the TICOM reports seem to me to be both accurate and verifiable since different people, from different agencies, interrogated years apart give the same answers when asked about specific crypto systems. In many cases their reports can be crosschecked by using the captured German archives, decrypted German messages solved by Bletchley Park, Foreign Military Studies and/or various books and articles.

    For example let’s have a look at some interesting cases:

    1). Soviet 5-figure code. This was a codebook used at the highest level by the Soviet military. Its exploitation is mentioned by several people including Mettig, Huettenhain, Lingen, Dettman. All these people were high ranking officials and knew what they were talking about. Their reports range from 1945 to 1952, yet the details are the same.

    TICOM reports DF-292 and DF-112 have a detailed overview of the operation and they give us the same story of significant success in 1941-42 but limited exploitation in 1943-45 due to the use of one time pad. The last two reports were written by Alexis Dettmann, head of cryptanalysis at the Army’s Intercept Control Station East and Edwin von Lingen, head of the Eastern cryptanalysis department of the Luftwaffe’s signal intelligence agency. These were the people in charge so I don’t see how their testimony could be discounted!

    If someone is still not convinced there are statistics from the Finnish archives on their exploitation of the 5-figure code that show exactly the same picture (for example 36% success rate in June 1942 but roughly 1% in the period 1943-44). 

    2). Soviet partisans. From summer 1943 the Germans were able to decode a part of the Soviet Partisan traffic. This was such an important task that an entire signals regiment (KONA 6) was assigned to handle this traffic.

    The details we have come from reports written by several people such as Mettig (head of the Army’s signal intelligence agency in the period 1941-43), Schubert (head of the Russian section of the Army’s signal intelligence agency from 1943 onwards), Friedrichsohn (member of KONA 6). All three were part of this program and they give similar information even though their reports were written years apart (two in 1945 and one in 1947).

    In addition we have a report by Abwehr personnel written in 1946 that points to considerable success by KONA 6: ‘Most successful in monitoring and decoding was Kdr der Nachrichten Aufklaerung 6, who furnished FAK III daily with decoded transcriptions of a major part of the W/T traffic between partisan and NKGB stations.’

    3). Polish intelligence-Berne station. In 1943 the Germans were able to solve the traffic of the Polish military attaché in Berne that concerned intelligence operations in Europe. This is mentioned in EASI vol2 but the relevant TICOM reports (I-31 and I-118) are still classified. Still this incident is also mentioned in the book ‘War Secrets in the Ether’ by Wilhelm Flicke.

    Flicke was a member of OKW/Chi (the agency that solved this traffic) and his book is based on the reports he wrote for the Americans after the end of the war (TICOM DF-116 to DF-116AL). He mentions the Polish attaché and the solution of his code in summer 1943 and in another page says that his name was Choynacki.

    This information can be verified from two British sources. The recently published ‘MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949’ by Keith Jeffery mentions Major Szczesny ChoynackiPolish deputy consul in Berne, whose radio traffic was compromised in summer 1943. This isn’t just another book on British intelligence but actually an authorized history, which means that the author had access to secret archives. The other document that fills the last piece of the puzzle is report DS/24/1556 which can be found in HW 40/222 ‘Poland: reports and correspondence relating to the security of Polish communications’. This report is a summary of the Polish decodes found in captured archives of OKW/Chi and reveals that some decodes were on the link London-Berne on a system identified as military attaché cypher Poldi 4. The report says ‘The Berne military attache traffic mostly dates back to June 1943..

    So by all accounts Flicke and reports I-31 and I-118 seem to be very accurate!

    The real culprit

    The main problem, as I see it, isn’t with the actual reports but with summaries such as the ‘European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II’ volumes. These suffer from a number of flaws:

    1). They were written in 1945-46 with the material that was available at that time. This means that they did not have access to files and personnel that were located at a later date. For example important reports by people like Dettmann, Luzius, Marquart, Fenner, Flicke, de Bary, Kroeger, Praun, Lingen and others were not available.

    2). The people who wrote them do not seem to have had a well rounded understanding of Allied, Axis and Neutral cryptologic systems and their evolution during the war.

    3). There is no volume for the B-Dienst.

    4). The information on the Forschungsamt is very limited.

    5). The EASI volumes are not thorough. Important cases such as the compromise of the A-3 speech scrambler, the diplomatic M-138-A, the OSS strip and others are not examined in detail. If I had to guess I’d say that the authors considered that these systems were ‘civilian’ and thus the responsibility of their parent organization.

    These problems can be circumvented by reading the original reports (those that are publicly available) but here the researcher faces the problem of time. There are probably close to 200 TICOM reports available online plus several other files that also deal with Axis sigint. Some of these files are quite large with hundreds of pages. Obviously if someone wants to read them all it will take some time!

    Misunderstandings and confusion

    Then there is the question of understanding the information. Just reading the reports doesn’t give all the details. For example if you learn that the Germans solved the US TELWA code what can you infer from that? What was TELWA? Was it an important system? In order to learn more you’ll need to check several reports that mention it and discover that it was the ‘US Telegraph code’.  With more digging you’ll finally identify it as the US War Department Telegraph Code 1942 edition. This was used in administrative traffic so it wasn’t top level but still it was an important system. There are similar problems in all the reports.

    Many authors who have written about WWII signals intelligence do not have a solid understanding of what crypto systems were used by each country and at what level. Instead they just refer to the Enigma cipher machine and if there is a comparison with Allied equivalents it is with cipher machines such as SIGABA and Typex.

    That is a grievous error. The Enigma was built in hugenumbers and used by the German armed forces as their main cipher system. This was not true for the Allies.

    The Americans used a small number of SIGABA machines in the period 1941-43. According to the official history ‘The Achievements of the Signal Security Agency (SSA) in World War II’, p41 in late 1941 75 M-134/M-134-A and 45 M-134-C had been distributed to the Army. Another report SRH-360 ‘History of Invention and Development of the Mark II ECM’ says that in October 1943 4.550 machines had been delivered (3.370 for the Navy and 1.180 for the Army).

    The British used the Typex for top level communications but never had a large number of these. At the start of WWII less than 300 were in service and by May 1944 5.016 had been produced.

    The Germans in comparison had more than 10.000 Enigmas at the start of WWII and built about 30.000 more. So if an author wants to compare apples to apples he’ll have to read up on the British book cyphersand the US Strip ciphers, not just their cipher machines!


    My conclusion is that the TICOM reports are reliable provided that all of them are examined and especially the ones written by high ranking personnel. However in order for the information contained in them to be fully understood it is important that the reader is acquainted with the main cipher systems used by the major participants and their operational use and security.

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  • 05/12/13--22:59: A spy in the Kremlin
  • After the fall of the Tsarist Empire and the rise of the Communist regime the British intelligence service tried to recruit spies inside the new Soviet state.

    Most of the books I’ve read claim that all those efforts resulted in failure and no important sources of information were available. However I noticed that in the book ‘Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer’ by Peter Wright (former Assistant Director of MI5) there is mention of a spy in the Kremlin.

    In Chapter 15, p220 we get:

    I switched back, and began to press his conscience. "Have you ever thought about the people who died?" Blunt feigned ignorance. "There were no deaths," he said smoothly, "I never had access to that type of thing . . ." "What about Gibby's spy?" I flashed, referring to an agent run inside the Kremlin by an MI6 officer named Harold Gibson. "Gibby's spy" provided MI6 with Politburo documents before the war, until he was betrayed by Blunt and subsequently executed. "He was a spy," said Blunt harshly, momentarily dropping his guard to reveal the KGB professional. "He knew the game; he knew the risks."

    Who was this spy? What information did he give his controller and how did Blunt compromise him? Gibsonwas a longtime MI6 officer who served in Turkey and Czechoslovakia but I haven’t been able to find more information on his agent.

    This spy must have been the person mentioned by Walter Krivitsky when he was interrogated by the British. Krivitsky was head of the Red Army’s foreign military intelligence network in Europe in the 1930’s but he defected and managed to get to the US. There he publicly attacked Stalin in a series of articles and in 1940 visited the UK and was interrogated by the British authorities. These reportsrefer to him as ‘mr Walter Thomas’.

    In one of these he mentions how his chief Slutsky called him sometime in 1937 and showed him information from one of their spies in Britain. This person gave the Soviets copies of the proceedings of the Committee of Imperial Defense . One of these documents had information from a Politburo meeting that clearly showed that the British had a high level agent.


    I assume that this person was ‘Gibby's spy’.

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    In their war against the Soviet Union the Germans were in need of reliable information on Soviet military capabilities and decisions. However before 1941 they were unable to organize an espionage network because the Soviet borders were hermetically sealed and the authorities kept a close eye on everyone.

    After the objectives of the 1941 invasion were not realized the German intelligence agencies were ordered to work harder in order to recruit high level spies inside the SU. It was at this time that a great opportunity appeared.

    A Viennese citizen named Richard Kauder (alias ‘Klatt’) who was half Jewish had agreed to spy for the Germans in order to protect himself and his family from persecution. Through his friend Joseph Schultz he met White Russian émigré General Anton Turkul who claimed that he could activate a network of spies inside the SU. This idea was presented to the head of the Vienna Abwehr station Count Marogna-Redwitz and he found it very interesting.

    Kauder and his associates were allowed to organize a network and they were provided with funds and the necessary radio equipment. Their base was a villa in Sofia, Bulgaria and the group was called Dienstelle Klatt.

    Their main radio agents were ‘MAX’ and ‘MORITZ’. Radio messages from various parts of the SU constantly came in and the majority concerned movements of troops. Some however had information from important meetings in Moscow that pointed to a high level spy. These reports were valued by the Luftwaffe and by the Foreign Armies Eastdepartment.

    General Gehlen mentions the ‘MAX’ spy in his memoirs ‘The Service: The Memoirs of General Reinhard Gehlen’, p72

    From one of the Abwehr's offices controlling agents in Moscow, I had received the following signal a few days earlier: An agent states: on 4 November Stalin presided over Council of War in Moscow, attended by twelve marshals and generals. Following basic principles were laid down at this council:

    a) operations are to be executed cautiously to avoid heavy casualties;

    b) loss of ground is unimportant;

    c) it is vital to salvage industrial and public-utility installations in good time by evacuation, which explains orders issued for dispersal of refineries and machine-tool factories from Grozny and Makhachkala to New Baku, Orsk and Tashkent;

    d) rely only on oneself, don't count on getting aid from allies;

    e) take sharp measures to prevent desertion, either by better propaganda and rations or by firing-squads and tougher GPU supervision and;

    f) all the planned attack-operations are to be executed before 15 November if possible, insofar as weather permits. These are primarily from Grozny towards Mozdok; at Nizhni-Mamon and Verkhni-Mamon in the Don basin; and at Voronezh, at Rzhev south of Lake Ilmen and at Leningrad. The necessary troops are to be brought out of reserve and up to the front line.

    David Kahn in ‘Hitler’s spies’ pages 314-6 also has some of the ‘MAX’ messages:

    On 4 June 1942, for example, MAX reported:

    On 2 June one rifle division, one artillery regiment, one medium tank regiment coming out of Astrakhan arrived in Tikhoretsk, supposedly going towards Rostov. On 3 June one transport of 200 heavy and medium tanks arrived in Krasnodar out of Stalingrad, intended for the Taman peninsula.


    But none came close to the speed and the precision of MAX'S astonishing message of 4 November 1942:

    On 4 November war council in Moscow presided over by Stalin. Present 12 marshals and generals. In this war council the following principles were set down: a) Careful advance in all operations, to avoid heavy losses. b) Losses of ground are unimportant.... f) Carrying out all planned offensive takings, if possible, before 15 November, insofar as the weather situation permits. Mainly: from Grozny [out of the Caucasus] ; in the Don area at Voronezh; at Rzhev; south of Lake Ilmen and Leningrad. The troops for the front will be taken out of the reserves....

    The message on the war council on November 4 was particularly important to the Germans because it allowed them to prepare for the major Soviet attack against Army Group Centre.

    Was the ’MAX’ network providing the Germans with high value intelligence or was something wrong?

    The Klatt agency was not trusted by everyone in the German intelligence community. The head of Abwehr in Sofia was colonel Otto Wagner (alias ‘Delius’). He was certain that Klatt was a liar and was making up his information. In order to uncover him he tried to find out how the reports from the SU were sent to him and got the answer that the traffic was intercepted by the Bulgarian police on his behalf. When he contacted his friends in the police they told him that they had never heard of this. When he confronted Kauder a second time he was told that radio operators intercepted the traffic from fishing boats in the Bosporus and sent the transcripts to him. These bizarre statements did not satisfy Wagner but his superiors thought highly of the information flowing from Kauder and he was instructed not to interfere with him.

    At the end of the war Kauder and his close associates Anton Turkul and Ira Longin were arrested by the Americans and interrogated at Camp King, a Luftwaffe interrogation centre that was now used against its former masters.

    It did not take long for the Allied interrogators to get to the truth. Kauder did not have agents inside the SU, instead he relied on his friend Joseph Schultz for information. At the end of the war Schultz revealed to him that he had always been a Soviet agent and thus the entire operation was a deception. Kauder suspected as much but for his own preservation did not inform the Germans. According to him as long as the Abwehr was satisfied he was happy. It also seems that his associates were working for the SU either directly or passively.

    Value of the ‘MAX’ network

    As we’ve seen there can be no doubt that the Dienstelle Klatt did not have real spies inside the SU but was given reports prepared by the Soviet intelligence agencies. Obviously these reports would mix truths with lies in order to influence the decisions of the German leadership.

    The question is how important was this traffic to the Germans and how much did it influence their strategic decisions? Walter Schellenberg, head of SD foreign intelligence, said in one of his postwar interrogations about Kauder: ’His reports on Russian Army matters were good and were classed as important to the Wehrmacht (Heereswichtig), and the General Staff ‘Fremde Heere Ost’ thought highly of him. On air matters they were weak, and on political questions sometimes good and sometimes bad.

    By looking at the Gehlen memoir the part about FHO seems to be true. If the Germans valued this traffic does this mean that the information on troop movements was correct? Without having access to the actual reports we have to resort to secondary sources.

    In this case we are lucky since another agency was also interested on the reliability of the ‘MAX’ network. According to the official history ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War: Volume 4, Security and Counter-Intelligence’ in the winter of 1941-42 decrypts of Abwehr messages (the Brits called the hand ciphers ISOS) passing from Sofia to Vienna revealed reports from two networks. One called ‘MAX’ dealt with the Eastern front and the other called ‘MORITZ’ had information from the Middle East. In the period December ’41- March ’42 some 300 ‘MAX’ and 40 ‘MORITZ’ reports were intercepted.

    The Brits assessed the reports and found them to be ‘up to date’ and ‘well arranged’. The first hypothesis was that this information was collected from high level spies inside the SU but considering the unlikelihood of a large spy ring operating inside the SU for so long it was suspected that this was a double cross. 

    There was a detailed study of the reports by MI 14 in 1943 which concluded that they were truly valuable in anticipating Soviet moves and that there was practically nothing to support the theory of deliberate deception! Since this was judged to be a serious threat to the security of an Allied country the Soviets were officially informed in October 1943. However there was no reaction from the Soviets and the messages continued to flow until February 1945.

    The Brits undertook another study of the messages in 1943, this time with help from MI 5. Their focus was on the ‘MORITZ’ messages since they dealt with operations and dispositions of British military forces in the Middle East and Mediterranean. The verdict was that they were generally inaccurate, for example out of 49 reports in June-July ’43 only 5 were rated as valuable. 

    Still we know from the MI 14 evaluation that the messages dealing with the fighting in the East were valuable. If the ‘MAX’ messages were meant to deceive the Germans why did they contain good intelligence?

    Operation Uranus and agent ‘MAX’

    Perhaps the Soviet goal was to ensure that the reliable intelligence would convince the Germans that the spy network was real and thus get them to lower their guard. Then the Soviets could be reasonably certain that they could introduce disinformation without it being detected.

     In fact we know that in at least one case they were able to deceive the Germans (or help the Germans deceive themselves) regarding a major operation. The ‘MAX’ report giving details of the Moscow war council on November 4 1942 is mentioned by Gehlen as an example of valuable intelligence. This report says that the following major operations were scheduled for the first half of November ’42:

    1). Attack from Grozny to Mozdok.

    2). Effort to recapture Voronezh

    3). Attack south of Voronezh (Nizhni-Mamon and Verkhni-Mamon)

    4). Attack on the Rzhev salient

    5). Leningrad operation

    These operations made military sense and did not catch the Germans by surprise. Gehlen expected the main Soviet operation of the winter to be directed against Army Group Centre at Rzhev. The Soviets were constantly attackingthis area because its proximity to Moscow made them uneasy. However the report says nothing about Stalingrad.

    Can we conclude from this that the Germans were tricked into focusing all their attention at Rzhev and forgetting about Stalingrad? The report certainly reinforced Gehlen’s initial assessment but that doesn’t mean that the Foreign Armies East department was not aware of the vulnerability of their forces in Stalingrad. In August ’42 they had already written about the possibility of enemy operations in the South, either to relieve Stalingrad or to capture Rostov and thus cut off the German forces in the Caucasus.

    What tipped the scales was Gehlen’s belief that the Soviets would be able to mount only one major operation and thus their forces in the area of Army Group South would be unable to mount 'far-reaching operations'.

    Did the Soviet deception plan backfire?

    If the report from ‘MAX’ drew German attention away from Stalingrad it also alerted them to the major attack on Rhzev. That operation resulted in very heavy Soviet losses, so did the double cross serve its purpose or did it lead to unintented consequences?

    According to Soviet historiography the Mars operations was merely a diversion, meant to draw German forces away Army Group South. However Eastern front historian David Glantz says about the Mars operation in ‘Zhukov's Greatest Defeat’, p317: ‘Within the galaxy of operations that the Stavka launched in late 1942, those few who have mentioned it have dismissed Operation Mars as a skillful diversionary operation. The official line, as argued by Zhukov and most lower level Soviet commanders, is that Operation Mars was launched in late November or early December to prevent German reserves in the center from reinforcing German forces in the southern Soviet Union. Therefore, they argue, Operation Mars contributed to Soviet success in the Stalingrad victory and, thus, was justified. These arguments are at best disingenuous and at worst blatant lies. In terms of its timing, scale, scope, expectations, and consequences, the Stavka intended Operation Mars to be as significant, if not more so, than Operation Uranus.

    The goal of operations Mars and Jupiter (cancelled after the failure of Mars) was the destruction of the entire Army Group Centre! Such an operation could not be a diversion, so I think Glantz is close to the truth when he sarcastically says ‘Given these facts, in the unlikely event Zhukov was correct and Mars was really a diversion, there has never been one so ambitious, so large, so clumsily executed, or so costly.

    If the ‘MAX’ report played a role in the Soviet defeat then how can this be explained, considering that the report was prepared by Soviet intelligence? The report was sent on 4 November and the Mars operation began on 25 November ’42, so it gave the Germans roughly 20 days to prepare. On the other hand can we be sure that this report played a major role? It has already been shown that the Germans expected the major Soviet operation of the winter period to be against Army Group Centre and the area that appeared to be the best target was Rhzev. So ‘MAX’ did not tell the Germans something that they did not already believe to be true. Perhaps the people who prepared the report thought that by ‘exposing’ an operation that was already expected by the enemy they would not compromise security but only prove the reliability of their ‘spy’.

    Another explanation is that the Soviet intelligence agencies did not have the means to check the German response to their messages so they included too much real information in their reports. A successful disinformation operation depends on the ability to check if the intelligence is accepted by the enemy as reliable or if it is rejected as false. For that reason spies are needed inside the enemy’s intelligence and military centers. Did the Soviets have such a capability in WWII?

    At the start of the war they had an extensive espionage ring in Western Europe. Their Berlin networks had spies in the Luftwaffe intelligence staff and the Economics Ministry. However these groups sent their reports through the Soviet embassies and when these closed down they had to use radio which quickly alerted the Germans and led to arrests.

    In 1941 one of the radio centers was raided in Brussels and many arrests followed. In summer ‘42 the Berlin networks were dismantled and by the end of the year the leaders of the Rote Kapelle were apprehended and used in radio games. There was also another spy group called the Rote Drei that operated in Switzerland and they were not caught but we do not know if their information was really valuable.

    At the same time the Soviets were not very successful in other fields of intelligence like photo reconnaissance and signals intelligence. According to the Germans Soviet recon planes usually flew close to the front and thus did not keep the rear areas under observation. Regarding sigint, so far there is no indication that Soviet codebreakers could solve high level German crypto systems (like the Enigma machine).

    We know that Soviet intelligence was not perfect because throughout the war their estimates of German strength and losses were wildly inaccurate.

    So in the end it could be the case that despite its value as a conduit of disinformation the ‘MAX’ network also harmed the Soviet war effort. It is up to researchers to untangle this web!

    Sources: ‘Hitler's Spies: German Military Intelligence In World War II’, Intelligence and National Security article: ‘Memories of Oberursel. Questions, Questions, Questions’, Journal of Contemporary History article: ‘Foreign Armies East and German Military Intelligence in Russia 1941-45’ ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War: Volume 4, Security and Counter-Intelligence’, ‘The Service: The Memoirs of General Reinhard Gehlen’, ‘Hitler's Last Chief of Foreign Intelligence: Allied interrogations of Walter Schellenberg’, ‘Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries, and Deadly Games’, ‘Walter Schellenberg: The Memoirs of Hitler's Spymaster’, ‘Zhukov's Greatest Defeat: The Red Army's Epic Disaster in Operation Mars, 1942’, SVR website: ‘Operation Monastery’, UK National archives Dienstelle Klatt page

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    An interesting report of the Signal Security Agency is available from the wwiiarchives.netsite. The title is ‘An Insecure Use of the Hagelin Cryptograph Leading to the Discovery of Messages in Depth and the Reconstruction of Base Settings - NEA’.

    The site has a problem with Internet Explorer so use an alternative browser.

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    The book ‘Mathematics and War’ has a small chapter on the Japanese codebreakers of WWII by Setsuo Fukutomi. The author was one of these codebreakers and he mentions his work on the US strip ciphers and the M-209 machine.

    This part can be downloaded as a sample at the Springer site.

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    After checking my files for my essay on the reliability of TICOM reports i rediscovered a British report giving an overview of Polish codes. The British codebreakers obviously had some success with the codes of their close ally!

    This report is important because it verifies the use of a stencil subtractor system on military attaché links, just as the Germans said.

    The title is "Polish Cyphers 1942-1945", write-up by Jones-Williams (Berkeley St.)and it can be found in collection HW 47/2 of the British National Archives.


    You can download it from my Google docs or Scribd accounts.

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    This is quite a difficult subject to fully analyze. The idea that the Germans mismanaged their war economy is one of the most enduring myths of WWII. This idea is strange considering that everyone acknowledges the ‘economic miracles’ of the period 1933-39 and of the postwar recovery. Why would the Germans do things right up to 1939 and after 1945 but mess things up in between?

    Let’s start at the beginning. After taking emergency measures and restarting military production the German economy stabilized and in the mid thirties was running at full speed, meaning that the internal factors of production were fully exploited.

    Before the war the main problem was how to finance the import of raw materials that were needed for the production of civilian and military goods. Here the Germans used several tricks including bilateral trade agreements and ‘stealth’ credit.  At the same time they invested in technologies that would allow them to substitute foreign raw materials with internal production (low grade German ores, synthetic rubber, synthetic fuel).

    In the period 1939-41 Germany gained control of a large number of European countries BUT could not exploit their economies to the fullest because they were dependent on imports of raw materials. Since the British Royal Navy blockaded Europe those countries instead of adding to the German economy had to be supplied with scarce resources (for example coal for their energy needs and chemicals for their agriculture).

    In the period 1942-44 military production increased significantly despite shortages of raw materials and a bombing campaign by the Anglo-Americans. It was this increase in production that led to the creation of the Speer myth.

    According to the standard account prior to Speer’s appointment as Armaments minister in 1942 there was widespread wastage and underutilization of industry.

    Speer in his memoir ‘Inside the Third Reich’ attributes the increase in production to his radical measures. In chapter 15 (aptly named ‘Organized improvisation’) he lists the main policies:

    1). ‘industrial self-responsibility’ with civilian committees being responsible for each procurement program instead of Army personnel and bureaucrats who did not know how industry worked.

    2). Standardization of weapons and emphasis on long term production vs the old policy of ‘frequently assigned contracts only for a limited time’.

    3). Giving positions of responsibility to younger, energetic men (below 40).

    According to him one of the main problems was excessive bureaucratization of the government agencies. Instead his policy was to promote personal initiative and improvisation. 

    His policies seem to have been successful. For example two categories that are always mentioned are tracked fighting vehicles and combat aircraft:





    Tanks and SPG





    Combat aircraft





    Such a rise in production must have been made possible by eliminating waste and mismanagement. What else could be the reason?

    Debunking the Speer myth

    Things become clearer if we look at the two largest production categories of the war economy, ammunition and aircraft.

    Did the Germans produce more with less? Was mismanagement and misallocation of resources holding production back?

    Ammunition production

    From ‘The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy’, p575-6

    The driving force of this spectacular increase, however, was anything but miraculous. To reiterate, in so far as Speer was responsible, the most important factor was ammunition. And the increased production of ammunition was not primarily an effect of rationalization or reorganization. It was a direct result of a hugely increased allocation of steel. From September 1939 to the end of 1943, there is a near-perfect correlation between the allocation of steel to ammunition production and the quantity of ammunition produced. When plenty of steel was allocated, ammunition production was buoyant. When the steel supply was restricted, so was the production of ammunition, and this relationship holds both before and after February 1942. To the extent that there was a major surge in labour productivity within the remit of the Speer Ministry, the indicator usually used to measure rationalization success, this in fact confirms the rate-limiting role of steel. Without enough raw material, neither labour nor the available industrial plant could be used efficiently.’

    Hmm so when it comes to ammunition production the effects of Speer’s rationalization program seem to have been modest to nonexistent…

    Aircraft production

    After WWI Germany was prohibited from having a military aircraft industry. This meant that in the 1930’s, when rearmament started, the effort to rebuild this industry was constrained by the lack of industrial resources, trained manpower and aviation technology. It took years to build up factories, acquire modern aero engine technology and develop aircraft models for mass production.

    The Luftwaffe played a major role in the plans of the Nazi regime and thus huge resources were invested in the airforce. Did aircraft production rise as a result of Speer’s rationalization program?

    The recent study ‘Demystifying the German “armament miracle” during World War II. New insights from the annual audits of German aircraft producers’ says
    This paper uses the annual audit reports of the Deutsche Revisions- und Treuhand AG for seven firms which together represented about 50 % ofthe German aircraft producers. We question the received view by showing that in theGerman aircraft industry the crucial changes that triggered the upswing in aircraftproduction already occurred before World War II. The government decided in 1938 thataircraft producers had to concentrate on a few different types, and in 1937 that cost-pluscontracts were replaced with fixed price contracts. What followed was not a suddenproduction miracle but a continuous development which was fuelled first by learning-by doingand then by the ongoing growth of the capital and labor endowment.

    Aircraft manufacturers had already taken measures similar to those that Speer promoted so again there was no miracle in the increased production. The same study says in page 20:

    ‘The precise timing of the Ju88 program gives us some idea, why the concurrence of the German armament miracle and Albert Speer’s reign might just have been coincidental. It was in May 1938 when the aviation department finally decided that the Ju88 bomber would become one of the major weapons of the German air force. The firms which were chosen to participate in this program were instructed to end their established production and adapt their plants to the new design instead. Production of the Ju88 bombers started in 1939. The firms used the following two years to move down their learning curves and to realize the substantial increases in labor productivity that occurred in the early stage of a production run. Around the end of 1941 the production processes were finally broken in, and the Ju88 producers were ready to take off. In February 1942 Albert Speer became armament minister, in the middle of a seasonal downturn. This was exactly the right time to be credited with the considerable increase in the Ju88 production in the following two and a half years. This growth was not a sudden miracle made possible by Speer but the continuation of a development that started in 1938 and was fuelled by the ongoing learning effects shown by table 6 and the growth of the firms’ capital and labor endowment discussed in section 2.’

    So why did the Germans produce more armaments in the period 1943-44?

    The answer is simple. For the same reason they produced more in 1941-42 compared to 1939-40.

    Production rose because more inputs of raw materials, capital and labor were invested. At the same time workers became better at producing weapon systems whose specifications had been fixed for a long time.

    There were certainly benefits from cutting down on inefficiencies and bureaucracy but these were not the primary reasons.

    The main cause for the 1943-44 ‘miracle’ was the diversion of resources from long term investment into production.

    Major investments in infrastructure started in the 1930’s but took till mid war to become operational. These projects absorbed large quantities of capital and labor without contributing to the output of munitions. Once they were completed they helped boost production plus the resources that they kept occupied could be redirected to other projects.

    For example tank production significantly increased thanks to the expansion of existing tank facilities and by building new factories, especially the gigantic Nibelungenwerk in Austria.

    Aircraft production took advantage of investment in the expansion of aero engine capacity but also profited from the production of the same types throughout the war (Bf109, FW-190, JU-88, Ju-52, He-111 etc).

    In both cases we also need to consider that production numbers were boosted by taking shortcuts. In the case of tanks there was an emphasis on vehicle production at the expense of spare parts (engines, transmissions, gearboxes etc). In the aircraft industry the impressive production numbers of 1943-44 were achieved by concentrating resources on the single engined fighters Bf109 and FW-190. These were much cheaper to build than the twin engined Ju-88 bomber. For example in terms of weight we have Bf109 - 2.250kg , FW-190 -  3.200kg compared to ~9.000kg for the Ju-88.

    There are two more important issues that come up when discussing the German war economy.

    Women in the workforce and butter over guns

    1). German women stayed at home taking care of the kids instead of working in the factories

    Actually the Germans used a larger percentage of women in their workforce than the US and UK. According to ‘The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy’, p358:

    In 1939 a third of all married women in Germany were economically active and more than half of all women between the ages 15 and 60 were in work. As a result women made up more than a third of the German workforce before the war started compared to a female share of only a quarter in Britain.

    And in page 515: ‘When the chief statistician of the Reich Labour Ministry investigated the issue in the autumn of 1943, using data that were very unfavorable to Germany, he arrived at the conclusion that the share of women in war work was 25.4 per cent in the United States, 33.1 per cent in Britain and 34 per cent in Germany.

    2). The Germans continued to produce lots of civilian goods throughout the war because Hitler did not want to disadvantage the population

    According to ‘Germany: guns, butter and economic miracles’ (chapter 4 of ‘The Economics of World War II’) ‘by late 1940 most of the consumer branches were already devoting between 40 and 50 percent of their output to the military, leaving very little for the civilian population’.

    Civilian consumption was contained even by the mid 1930’s by cutting the steel allocation. According to ‘The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy’, p254:  Measured in terms of steel, the quantity of materials available for non-Wehrmacht purposes was cut by 25 per cent between March and July 1938, from a  high point of 1.345 million tons to 1.041 million tons.

    The calorific content of food rations also fell after 1940-1. Although the regime tried to protect the civilian population there was never a policy of ‘butter over guns’.


    The performance of the German war economy has always fascinated historians. However in order to evaluate the performance of the economy one needs to understand the major factors that limited production.

    It was not wastage and bureaucratization but rather the lack of vital resources that affected production. The best way to describe the German war economy is scarcity management. The Germans responded to resource limitations by investing in new technologies (hydrogenation plants etc), in infrastructure and by shifting resources to important projects. They also substituted German workers (that were drafted by the armed forces) with forced and slave labour.

    The belief that the German economy could have produced more armaments if it hadn’t been mismanaged is not supported by the evidence.

    For those of you that are still doubtful read: ‘The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy’, ‘Demystifying the German “armament miracle” during World War II. New insights from the annual audits of German aircraft producers’, ‘The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison– Chapter 4’

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    One of the books I reviewed recently was the single volume history of the Italian campaign ‘A Hard Way to Make a War: The Allied Campaign in Italy in the Second World War’. That book says in page 326 about casualties:

    The casualty figures also are fairly balanced:
    Allied killed, wounded, missing (September 1943 - May 1945) 312,000 (188,746 Fifth Army/ 123,254 approx in Eighth Army)

    German killed, wounded, missing 434,646 (48,067 killed, 172,531 wounded, 214,048 missing)

    That part has always bugged me! Wouldn’t the fact that the Germans were constantly on the defense be reflected in the loss ratios?  (that doesn’t necessarily mean that the attacking force will always incur higher losses than the defending force)
    Luckily I found interesting data in ‘Waffen und Geheimwaffen des deutschen Heeres 1933-45’. There is a table in page 314 with the monthly losses for the Italian front (killed, missing, wounded) for the period November ’43-April ’45. The numbers come to 36,362 killed, 126,474 wounded, 87,883 missing for a total of 250,719. Losses for September-October ’43 need to be added but these could not have been substantial.

    Apparently the figures used by the author include troops that surrendered at the end of the war. That’s not the way combat losses are compared. If we look at combat losses during the period of actual fighting it is obvious that the casualty figures were not fairly balanced but the Germans had a slight advantage.

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  • 05/28/13--03:57: Axis History Forum mug
  • Today a coffee mug arrived in the mail. It’s a gift from my friends at Axis History Forum for contributing to their site. Thanks guys!

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  • 05/30/13--23:36: Nuke the world
  • Have you ever wondered what would happen to Moscow if it was hit with a Trident D5 nuclear missile? How about a Tsar Bomba exploding over Washington DC?

    Fear not dear reader, you’re not the only one with weird unusual hobbies! The website nuclear secrecy allows you to choose a city and a nuclear bomb and then see the effects of the blast.


    PS: I found this site through the War Nerd’s article ‘North Korea, Wish Mao Were Here’.

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    The cipher machines of Boris Hagelin were an alternative to the Enigma and in the 1930’s and 1940’s many countries bought them.

    In 1944 the Germans had a chance to examine Hagelin machines purchased by Portugal. There were 24 large and 30 smallmachines being flown from Sweden to Portugal.

    These were examined on 11 January 1944 at Tempelhof airport by Dr Erich Huettenhain (chief cryptanalyst of OKW/Chi), Dr Karl Stein (a member of the cipher security department) and Rotscheidt (an engineer in charge of development of cryptanalytic machinery)


    Source: TICOM report D-60 ‘Miscellaneous Papers from a file of RR Dr. Huettenhain of OKW/Chi’, p2-3

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    File FO 1093/288 is available from the British National archives. It can be downloaded for free if you create an account.

    It has a report written by SS ObersturmbannführerKappler on Elser who attempted to blow up Hitler in 1939. Kappler was his interrogator and he was convinced that he acted alone.

    There is also another report by Hans Bernd Gisevius, giving an overview of the Resistance against Hitler in the military and political circles from the 1930’s till 1944.

    Reference found through WW2 Talk forum.

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    I’ve already had a look at the reliability of the TICOM reports regarding the successes of the German codebreakers.

    Going through some of my files I’ve noticed another clear cut case. Regarding Polish diplomatic codes we have the following statements from report I-63 ‘Interrogation Report on ORR Herrmann Scherschmidt of, Pers Z S, Auswaertiges Amt’, p3

    ‘5.Polish Systems:

    Scherschmidt worked entirely on diplomatic traffic and was not familiar with military or agent systems or with any successes achieved on them. He had dabbled in Polish throughout his Pers Z S career and early in 1939 he was assigned to the main diplomatic code of the Polish Foreign Office. This had been in force since 1934, and some unsuccessful research had been done in an effort to ascertain the encipherment used. The problem was given a very high priority in 1939 and Scherschmidt had first class assistance. With the aid of a captured specimen of encipherment and a captured description of the indicator system, the first message was read early in 1940. The code was recovered gradually, and in 1941 and 1942 all messages was read, most of them currently. The code went out of use in October 1942 and was replaced by a letter code. Scherschmidt did a little work on this at first but did not come back to the problem later. He said the code was never solved, and he did not know details of the attacks made on it by KUNZE and others.’


    (Note that I’ve used the I-63 file from NARA that has been uploaded by the TICOM Archive site. My copy from the British Archives has parts redacted.)

    Can this information be verified from some other source? The answer is yes.

    The Cryptologia article ‘From the Archives: Polish Interwar MFA's Cipher Compromised?’ by Jan Bury presents two report written by Polish intelligence official Major Tadeusz Szumowski in 1940 and 1946-7 that verify the compromise of the Polish diplomatic code.

    According to Szumowski the Poles had introduced the diplomatic ‘Code 45’ in 1933 and were aware that it might have been compromised. These suspicions became certainties when the British and French ambassadors in Berlin (Coulondre and Henderson) told them that they shouldn’t use this code when sending messages to them.

    In April 1939 the Poles received another warning this time from Major Bartik, former chief of the Czech Counter Intelligence, regarding the compromise of their code.

    This prompted the Polish leadership to authorize the use of a new code. Using trusted personnel a new letter code was prepared and printed and it ready for distribution in May 1940 but this operation was halted by Jan Ciechanowski the secretary general of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government-in-Exile. 

    This act, according to Szumowski, amounted to treason:

    These circumstances can hardly be explained by indolence and thoughtlessness at the MFA. This is rather negligence, which during the war is close to high treason and requires exemplary punishment. Personally I would be close to assuming that Mr Ciechanowski, considering the fact than an army officer [i.e. Szumowski] took care of the [development of the] cipher, was afraid the military could read the MFA’s messages, although he did not realize this was impossible knowing the cipher used unique tables.

    Eventually the new code ‘Alpha’ was distributed to posts abroad (first in the embassies in Paris, Rome and Bern) but the old ‘Code 45’ continued to be used by many other posts worldwide till end of ’42 when ‘Code 50’ was introduced. (Note that ‘Alpha’ and Code 50’ are also mentioned in the British report "Polish Cyphers 1942-1945", write-up by Jones-Williams (Berkeley St.))

    If we compare the statements in I-63 with the Cryptologia article we see that the information is a perfect match. TICOM I-63 says that the Polish main diplomatic code was used since 1934, while the article says it was introduced in mid 1933. The Germans read it till end ’42 when the new letter code was introduced. Again this is verified from the article which refers to ‘Alpha’ and ‘Code 50’.

    The reports by Szumowski allow us to answer an important question. In I-63 it is stated ‘The problem was given a very high priority in 1939 and Scherschmidt had first class assistance. With the aid of a captured specimen of encipherment and a captured description of the indicator system, the first message was read early in 1940’

    I’ve wondered of how the Germans got hold of those documents. According to Szumowski the Czechs had this information and they were able to decode Polish communications in the late 30’s. When the Germans occupied the country in March 1939 they obviously found some of the secret Czech archives. That is why he was warned in 1939 by the Czech officials…

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