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Military and intelligence history mostly dealing with World War II.

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  • 08/08/13--22:26: Papers please
  • Would you like to be a passport control officer in a totalitarian country? Who wouldn’t right?

    Well now you’re in luck!

    You can buy the finished game here or play a beta version here.

    Glory to Arstotzka.

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  • 08/11/13--01:00: Update
  • I added the following:

    The main advantage from reading British naval codes was gained by learning of their plans to attack Italian convoys to N.Africa. In those cases the Italian command quickly warned the convoys and had them change their course.

    and in the sources: Naval War College Review article: ‘The Other Ultra: Signal Intelligence and the Battle to Supply Rommel's Attack toward Suez

    2). Added ‘Mathematics and War in Japan’ in the sources of Japanese codebreakers of WWII.

    3). Added S.O.E. FIELD CIPHERS in the sources of SOE codes and Referat Vauck.

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    I’ve gone through the German tank and self propelled gun losses in the East here. The document I used had been posted at Axis History Forum but I also found it in Waffen und Geheimwaffen des deutschen Heeres 1933 – 1945, p278

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    The recently released United States Cryptologic History: ‘It Wasn’t All Magic: The Early Struggle to Automate Cryptanalysis, 1930s – 1960s’ has some interesting information in pages 266-7 regarding the Japanese Purple cipher machine and the Soviet Longfellow cipher teleprinter.

    Purple was used by the Japanese Foreign Ministry since the late 1930’s but after the war it seems that it continued to serve the Emperor! Apparently this time it was used to generate random diplomatic one-time pads. According to the report: ‘Somewhat later, Japan's reintroduction of the Purple machine to generate one-time pads for its diplomats proved quite useful to America's SIGINT monitors.

    The Soviet Longfellow cipher teleprinter was such an important target for the American codebreakers that very advanced cryptanalytic equipment was built to decode its messages:

    Much more ambitious was Hiawatha. In late 1947 electronic potentials finally came together with a cryptanalytic opportunity to force the release of massive funding for the long-sought Electronic Super Bombe. The elusive electronic matrix finally seemed ready, and at the same time enough had been learned about Longfellow to think that a bombe would allow continuous reading of its messages.


    The attack on Longfellow was thought to be just a prelude to reading the rest of Russia's most valuable communications. The Cold War, it seemed, was to have its own Ultra.

    Unfortunately this breakthrough could not be taken advantage of because the Soviets removed Longfellow from service in 1948!

    Howard Campaigne, was furious with the Americans as well as the Soviets. When he learned that ERA's electronic bombe project was terminated, he wrote: "If we had complete coverage [of Longfellow] from the beginning [1943] we probably could have been reading their communications by 1945. If we had supported this by the analytic machinery recently planned, we could have broken out most of the available traffic. The entire story is one of 'too little too late'. This system was in use for five years, yet we were not ready to read it in quantity until it disappeared."


    If Campaigne is right and Longfellow was introduced in 1943 then it must have been the machine the Soviets called M-101.

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    One interesting communications device used by the German Armed forces during WWII was the photophone. This was a device that used light waves to transmit speech over long distances.

    The photophone models built by the Germans were constructed by the well known Carl Zeiss company. One of these, the 80mm model, was captured by Allied forces in North Africa and it was evaluated by scientific personnel.

    The report they produced is called ‘The 80mm German Photophone’ and can be found at the US National Archives and Records Administration.

    The file can be downloaded from my Scribd and Google docs accounts.


    Additional information on the photophone is available from site and wehrmacht-awards.

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    The Air Ministry’s Research Department - Reichsluftfahrtministerium Forschungsamt was one of the major intelligence organizations of Nazi Germany. During the period 1933-45 the Forschungsamt monitored telegrams, mail and telephone traffic in Germany and also intercepted and decoded foreign radio traffic.

    The Forschungsamt was created by HermannGoering as his personal intelligence agency in 1933 and it originally included many former members of OKW/Chi, the codebreaking department of the Wehrmacht High Command.

    In the 1930’s they were able to eavesdrop on the telephone conversations of Czech president Benes with his ambassador in London Masaryk, decode French diplomatic codes and might even have solved Prime Minister Chamberlain’s messages.

    During the war they solved the codes of several countries and their greatest success was achieved against internal Soviet economic traffic. Unfortunately we do not know many details about their wartime work.

    ‘European Axis signals intelligence vol 1 - Synopsis’, p21-2 says that no evidence of their cryptanalytic successes was found and that less than 1% of the FA’s personnel were interrogated:

    No documentary evidence bearing on its cryptanalytic successes was found by TICOM’…………..‘Goering's "Research" Bureau had over 2,000 personnel. Less than one per cent of these were apprehended by TICOM for interrogation’.

    Is this information accurate? By looking at other reports it doesn’t seem to be. Even though the FA organization was dissolved at the end of WWII the most important personalities seem to have been caught fairly quickly.

    According to the ‘Consolidated interrogation report SAIC/CIR/7 of 19 July 1945’ the sources used were Gottfried Schapper (head of the FA) and the high ranking officials Kunsemueller(head of Department 2 - Financial Administration), Rautenkranz (head of Department 12 - Economic/Political evaluation) , Rentschler (head of Department 13 - Domestic political education) and Gerstmeyer(liaison officer between the Foreign Ministry and the FA).

    Another report TICOM IF-132Das Forschungsamt des Luftfahrtminsteriums’ - Hq USFET Weekly Intelligence summary # 12, 4 Oct. 1945’ says in page 2 that GeorgSchroeder had recently been taken into custody. Schroeder was head of Main Department IV tasked with codebreaking.

    From TICOM reports I-25 and I-54 it is clear that other important individuals were also captured in 1945, namely  Oden (head of Department 15 – Procurement and maintenance of technical equipment), Seifert (head of Main Department V – Evaluation of intercepted material), Paetzel (head of department 6 - Cipher Research), Fingerhut (member of Department V), Klautschke (liaison officer to OKW).

    So in 1945 the Anglo-Americans had managed to arrest and interrogate several of the FA higher-ups. This should have given them major insights into the work and successes of the FA. Yet the relevant study ‘European Axis signals intelligence vol 7 – Goering’s Research Bureau’ released in 1946 is poorly written and filled with generalities.

    How can this be explained logically? It is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps some of the important reports written by the FA higher-ups were not passed on to TICOM (Target Intelligence Committee) authorities. It could be a case of bureaucratic infighting/mismanagement.

    Alternatively the FA could have had some successes that we don’t know about. Was it in the interests of the US and UK to keep these a secret?

    We know that much later in 1950-51 several reports were written by Kroeger (one of the top cryptanalysts), Kurzbach (head of Department 11 - Foreign policy evaluation) and Hupperstsberg (head of Department 14 – Development of technical equipment used in monitoring) under the titles DF-240, DF-241. I’ve asked the NSA for the release of these documents but it seems this will take a long time…

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  • 08/24/13--08:13: Update
  • I added information from FMS P-038‘German Radio Intelligence’ and ADM 223/505 ‘Cypher security and W/T (Wireless Telegraphy) deception’ in The Slidex code.

    Also added a summary of ‘British intelligence’ vol4 in ‘Book review – British Intelligence in the Second World War’.

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  • 08/30/13--07:14: US intelligence budget
  • The Washington post has a nice article on the US secret intelligence budget. I found it strange that humint gets more money than sigint. What happened to you NSA? You used to get all the money…

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  • 09/01/13--00:09: Update
  • Added a file from TICOM D-69 ‘Correspondence between OKW/CHI and intercept stations’ in US military attaché codes of WWII.

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    So far i’ve covered many interesting cases of WWII signals intelligence and codebreaking but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some mysteries that require more research.

    What are they?

    1). US State Department strip cipher

    In the late 1930’s the US State Department adopted the M-138-A strip cipher as its high level crypto system. In 1937 the Japanese were able to copy the strip set 0-1 and they passed these to the Germans in 1941, who in turn shared them with the Finns in 1942. In the same period it seems that the Italians also got hold of some strips. How bad was the compromise of the State Department’s high level system?

    That question is hard to answer because there is limited information available and it doesn’t seem like the Americans were really interested in learning the full extent of the compromise. Some documents that would shed more light on this affair are proving very hard to find…

    The M-138 strip system was difficult to solve provided it was used properly. The State Department did not use it properly with the result that in 1943-44 most of the strip traffic could be read by the Germans and the Finns. I’ll write more about this in the future.

    2). NKVD 5thDepartment codebreakers

    In 1941 the NKVD’s codebreaking department was redesignated as the 5th Department under the efficient administrator Major Ivan Grigoryevich Shevelev. According to Matt Aid ‘By the end of World War II, the 5th Directorate controlled the single largest concentration of mathematicians and linguists in the Soviet Union.

    What did these people do during the war? They couldn’t have spent all their time solving German low level hand ciphers. How many Axis and other foreign cryptosystems did they attack? How many could they solve? Did the ‘break’ foreign cipher machines like the Enigma or the Hagelin systems?

    We simply don’t know. However it seems that a new book on WWII signals intelligence has been published in Russia recently. Unfortunately I don’t speak/read Russian…

    3). Referat Vauck success

    In 1942 the Germans organized a group tasked with solving enemy agents codes. This was department Vauck, named after its head dr Wilhelm Vauck. During the war they definitely solved enemy codes, usually those that had been physically compromised when the agent was arrested. However they also had some successes through cryptanalysis.

    How successful were they during the war? Unfortunately we do not know. The relevant file in the British national archives HW 40/76 ‘Enemy exploitation of SIS and SOE codes and cyphers’ says that postwar files have been retained and my request for the release of the interrogations of dr Vauck has been rejected by the archives staff…

    4). Forschungsamt information

    I have already pointed out that the Anglo-Americans were able to capture many of the Forschungsamt higher-ups in 1945. Where is the information from their interrogations? Why wasn’t it released to TICOM authorities?

    5). German Enigma investigations

    The Germans constantly evaluated the security of their Enigma cipher machine. There were many studies on whether the daily key or parts of it could be retrieved through cryptanalysis. Those studies are the TICOM DF-190 to DF-190AN files.

    I don’t have these but recently I was given a summary from Randy Rezabek of Ticom Archive. This file shows that the Germans had investigated several methods of attack on the Enigma and in many cases had calculated the time needed for a small team to carry them out. Many were within practical limits.

    More research is needed to evaluate the German methods and the way they influenced their security measures.

    6). Japanese Purple and Coral cipher machines

    In the 1930’s the Japanese Foreign Ministry started using the PURPLE cipher machine as its high level system. PURPLE was solved by American and Soviet codebreakers. Did the Germans have any success with it? Until recently the answer was no.

    However it seems there is more to this story.

    The Coral machine was used by military attaches and the Anglo-Americans solved it in 1944. In the same year dr Steinberg of the German Army’s signal intelligence agency was transferred to OKW/Chi where he worked on a cipher machine used by the Japanese attaché. Did he manage to solve it?

    TICOM report I-64 ‘Answers by Wm. Buggisch ofOKH/Chi to Questions sent by TICOM’ saysB. thinks Steinberg (of 209 fame) solved some Jap machine traffic which was difficult but not so hard as Enigma. B. thinks it was traffic of the Jap Military Attache.

    7). Soviet diplomatic code

    The Soviet Union used a code enciphered with one time pads as its main diplomatic system during WWII. This system if used correctly is unbreakable.

    Were the Germans able to read parts of this traffic? There are some strange statements in Allied and German reports…

    8). M-209 decoding device

    I’m surprised that no one has figured out how this machine worked!

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    The Guardianhas published more information on the NSA global surveillance program. This time it’s about NSA’s ability to intercept and decode a big part of global internet traffic.

    According to these documents ‘US and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.

    The Guardian also reveals that the NSA has made some kind of cryptanalytic breakthrough

    Strict guidelines were laid down at the GCHQ complex in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on how to discuss projects relating to decryption. Analysts were instructed: "Do not ask about or speculate on sources or methods underpinning Bullrun." This information was so closely guarded, according to one document, that even those with access to aspects of the program were warned: "There will be no 'need to know'.

    Very interesting stuff!

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    The compromise of the State Department’s strip cipher by Axis codebreakers in WWII was one of the worst failures of Allied crypto security. However this case has not received the attention it deserves because there is limited information available.

    This is a shame since by reading the US diplomatic traffic the Germans were able to monitor US foreign policy, counter efforts of minor Axis nations to exit the war and even keep an eye on the activities of the OSS station in Berne. It also seems that the Japanese got intelligence of great value by reading the messages of the US Chunking embassy.

    The problem is twofold. On the one hand there is limited information available from postwar interrogations of Axis personnel and on the other hand it is very difficult to find out how this system was used by the State Department during the war.

    Let’s take a look at these problems.

    The efforts of Axis codebreakers

    The State Department adopted the strip cipher as its high level system in the 1930’s and used it till late 1944. During that period several countries were able to exploit this system. Japan, Germany, Finland, Hungary and probably Italy were able to solve messages.

    Unfortunately the information we have is limited and not always reliable. The fact that many different countries and organizations were involved in the solution of the strip means that the relevant information is fragmented.

    In my opinion the following version of events is the most accurate. In late 1937 the Japanese were able to enter the US consulate in Kobe and copy the ‘intercommunication’ strip set 0-1. Using these they obviously read some of the traffic during the period 1937-41 but we do not know how much, with what time lag and whether they also managed to solve ‘special’ strips used by embassies for direct communications with Washington.

    In 1941 the Japanese shared the 0-1 set with the Germans. There were three German agencies that worked on the diplomatic strip cipher, OKW/Chi, Pers Z and the Forschungsamt. It seems that they started their investigations of this system in 1941 or even earlier but were probably unable to solve actual traffic at that time. Both Erich Huettenhain (chief cryptanalyst of OKW/Chi) and Hans Rohrbach (Pers Z cryptanalyst) refered to the years 1942-44 when they described the work on the strip and a report of Huettenhain, dated November 1941, says that Pers Z was unable to read messages on a US diplomatic system despite working with a  large staff for two years.

    It is not clear if the Italians were also able to read the strips in 1941. Fenner, head of the OKW/Chi cryptanalysis department said in DF-187G that he received strip information from them but no mention of this affair is available in other TICOM reports.

    In 1942 things must have changed regarding the 0-1 set (used till August ’42) and the Germans were also able to solve some of the ‘special’ sets. We definitely know that they solved the Berne strips but we don’t have details on much else. It seems that there was an agreement between the German agencies whereby OKW/Chi would attack the ‘special’ strips and Pers Z the ‘circular’ set.

    In the same year the Germans gave the 0-1 set plus the ‘special’ strips for Riga and Helsinki to the Finns. The Finnish codebreakers were very professional and they were able to break into several ‘special’ strips during the year (Helsinki, Moscow, Madrid, Berne, Ankara, Stockholm, Beirut, Casablanca and probably others). Although in 1944 the Finns claimed that they hardly cooperated with the Germans that was definitely not true regarding the strips. They obviously exchanged results and in 1943-44 there were visits of Finnish personnel to Berlin and of German codebreakers to Finland to clarify the solution of the strips.

    In 1943 the Finns revealed their success to the Japanese and gave them several ‘special’ sets. This became known to the Anglo-Americans through signals intelligence. The decoded Japanese messages betrayed the Finnish success.

    The American reaction was first to claim that the cryptosystem was not the strip cipher and later to attribute enemy success to physical compromise.

    It is not clear what security measures were implemented to secure the strip system other than changing the compromised strips with a new set. It seems the Americans did not want to believe that the Axis countries could read their high level system…

    The Germans were able to solve the Berne ‘special’ strip in 1943 and thus read not only diplomatic messages but also communications of the OSS. In late 1943 (or early according to another report) Pers Z solved the 0-2 ‘circular’ set used from August ’42 to March ’43. All messages were decoded with the help of a decoding machine called the ‘Automaton’.

    Other ‘special’ and ‘circular’ sets must have been solved during the year but again we don’t have those details. The codebreakers of OKW/Chi built a special cryptanalytic device called the ‘Tower clock’ (called statistical depth increaser in a US report) for work against the strip.

    During 1943 there seems to have been a change in policy by OKW/Chi regarding the assignment of work on the strips. It seems that the previous arrangement whereby the ‘circular’ (0 sets) strips would be worked on by Pers Z was cancelled. Instead OKW/Chi worked with the Finns, giving them strips 0-2, 0-3, 0-4 and 0-5. The Hungarians were also involved in strip work and communicated with the Germans and the Finns but again details are lacking.

    In 1944 it seems that the US authorities finally took measures that made the work of the Germans harder. Their efforts were hindered but not defeated. According to Huettenhain ‘about 1.5 years ago (Jan 1944) the strip system was made more difficult so that only certain lines could be read, for instance Berne to London, near the end nothing could be read’. In an unpublished manuscript written in 1970 he said: ‘In this way, were read by 1942 to September 1944, a total of 22 different links and all cq (call to quarters) messages’. It seems to me that the US measures had something to do with the special strips, either changing them more often (each month?) or giving them a different ‘key’ for each day (the standard system had only 40 different arrangements for the strips).

    In the summer of ’44 the Germans started to give the Japanese representatives some of the strips they had solved. It seems this was a decision taken at the top and was probably connected with the worsening situation at the front.

    How successful was the German effort? Unfortunately the statements made by Huettenhain and Wolfgang Franz (OKW/Chi cryptanalyst) are full of generalities. It is obvious that they were withholding the full extent of their success. Huettenhain said to the Anglo-Americans that ‘we can no longer state how many different sets of strips were reconstructed; probably 10 to 20’ but postwar he wrote that 22 ‘specials’ and all ‘circulars’ were read. Franz who was in charge of the strip solution said in 1949 that his agency intercepted 70 different ‘traffics’ and solved 28 ‘circuits’.

    The Finns also warned the Americans about the strip cipher in September ’44. US official Randolph Higgs after meeting colonel Hallamaa (head of Finnish sigint) wrote:

    They [the Finns] had been greatly aided in their work on breaking our strips by carelessness on our part in the preparation of messages; (for example) we were constantly putting information in ciphers they had already broken regarding messages in new ciphers, after which they could 'crack' the new ones.

    His general confidence in their ability to decode any of our messages anytime they wanted to, suggests very strongly that they do just that.

    From these statements it is obvious that the Axis codebreakers were much more successful with the strip system than has been acknowledged so far. More research is needed to reveal the full extent of their success. In the case of Italy and Hungary we know practically nothing regarding their work on the strip.

    State Department cipher policy

    The second problem in researching the strip cipher is the lack of a US report detailing the way the strip was used at different time periods. We know that each embassy had 50 ‘special’ alphabet strips and 50 ‘circulars’. Out of these 30 were chosen each day.

    How long was the period of validity and how were the daily keys selected? From German reports and Japanese messages it seems that after mid ’42 the ‘circulars’ were valid for roughly 6 months while the ‘specials’ were used without a specific system. Some were valid for 2 months others for 10.  Important embassies probably changed the ‘specials’ after 2-4 months.

    The question of ‘keys’ is interesting. The State Department did not have a different arrangement of the 30 strips for each day. Instead there were only 40 ‘keys’ used during the period of validity. Perhaps this changed in 1944 but it’s not clear.

    Another interesting fact is that the embassies were not given different keys but had all the same system. According to David Kahn in 'Finland's Codebreaking in World War II':

    Each post had its own set of strips; the key changed daily but was the same for all posts. This cryptographic weakness was probably permitted for logistical reasons.’

    This was a serious mistake. It was not the only one made by the State's cipher department. They also reused some of the ‘special’ strip sets.


    These and other mistakes facilitated the Axis solution of the strips. At this time there are many unanswered questions but I’m optimistic about the future. With a bit of luck more details will come out and I will be able to write a detailed account of the strip case.

    Sources: various TICOM reports, ‘The Codebreakers’, ‘In the Name of Intelligence: Essays in Honor of Walter Pforzheimer’, ‘History of Venona’, ‘Japanese Intelligence in World War II’, British archives HW 40/132, Cryptologia article: 'Report on the decipherment of the American strip cipher 0-2 by the German Foreign Office', SRH-366 ‘History of Army strip cipher devices’, ‘Swedish signals intelligence’, ‘From Information to Intrigue’

    Acknowledgements: I have to thank Frode Weierud, Michael van der Muelen and Ralph Erskine for sharing some of the information presented in this essay.

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    During WWII both the Allies and the Axis were able to capture equipment used by the other side. This equipment (tanks, planes, artillery, rifles etc) was thoroughly tested in order to ascertain its performance and weak points.

    Captured Allied planes were tested by a special unit of the Luftwaffe at Rechlin airport.

    One of the test pilots was Hans-Werner Lerche and in his memoirs ‘Luftwaffe Test Pilot: Flying Captured Allied Aircraft of World War 2’ he writes about the planes he tested and their operational characteristics.

    Lerche became interested in aviation at a young age, reading aviation magazines and building model planes. He wanted to learn how to fly a glider and in 1931 was accepted to a gliding training school. In the same course he met ‘a pleasant young lady… her name was Hanna Reitsch’. Lerche got his A, B and C-certificates of flying and later became a glider instructor, while at the same time studying engineering.

    During the 1930’s he learned how to fly powered aircraft and when he was inducted for military service in the late 30’s he got himself assigned to the Luftwaffe. After passing another pilots course he was promoted to non-commisioned officer and was transferred to the ‘German aviation experimental establishment’. At the Rechlin center German and foreign planes were thoroughly tested.

    Overall Lerche flew 125 different aircraft types during his career!

    Each chapter of the book deals with specific Allied aircraft. The book covers the British Lancaster, Spitfire and Tempest, the US P-39, P-47, P-51 fighters and the B-17,B-24 bombers, the Soviet planes La-5, Yak-3, the German Ju 290 and Do 335 and several Italian types like the SM.82, SM.91, G.55, Cant 1018, Cant 1007, Ca 133.

    For WWII aviation enthusiasts the book has very interesting information regarding the performance and peculiarities of various well known aircraft. For example:

    Lancaster bomber  

    The Lancaster was the main 4-engine bomber of the RAF’s Bomber Command.

    In August ’44 a Lancaster was test flown by the author who evaluated the flying characteristics. The plane was also used in tests of electronic equipment installed in German nightfighters.


    The famous Spitfire is an icon of the RAF’s Fighter Command. During WWII it was the premier British fighter plane.

    A Spitfire IIA (1.200hp engine) was tested by Lerche who considered it a dangerous opponent due to its armament and low wing loading. A negative point was that when taxiing ‘the field of vision was not as good as in the Bf 109 because of the ‘wide shoulders’ of the 12-cylinder upright-V engine’.

    B-17 ‘Flying Fortress’

    In October ’43 a USAAF B-17 landed intact in Denmark. The plane made a forced landing but had only superficial damage. After removing ‘dead weight’ like armor and ammunition it was possible to fly it to German territory. According to Lerche the most interesting part of the aircraft were its supercharged engines.

    During one of the test flights the B-17 demonstrated its ability to fly home with one or more engines out of action! At roughly 9.000 feet one of the engines malfunctioned. The crew got ready to abandon the plane at the pilot’s command but this was not necessary in the end. Even with 3 engines the plane made a safe landing.

    The B-17 was flown to airbases so that German pilots would familiarize themselves with this type and even mock attacks were flown.

    The only negative remarks on the B-17 were that the ‘forces acting on the ailerons were relatively high’ and the rudder was very heavy.

    B-24 ‘Liberator’

    In spring ’43 a B-24D landed by mistake in Sicily and was then flown by an Italian crew to Rechlin so that the Germans could test it. In the fuselage it had the title ‘Blonde Bomber II’.

    According to the author the B-24 ‘felt rather unstable longitudinally’ and ‘showed quite high control forces when gliding’. The nose wheel was also a weak point as it required a concrete runway and it collapsed during one of the landings at Rechlin.

    P-47 ‘Thunderbolt’

    In November ’43 a P-47 had landed intact near Caen, France.

    Contrary to orders Lerche had to share this aircraft with a fighter ace of the nearby unit who also wanted to fly it. In the end they agreed that Lerche would fly close by in order to ensure that the plane was operational and then the ace would fly it from Caen to Cormeilles.
    The P-47 was a very heavy plane and its performance at low level was poor at ~500km/h. However at high altitude its performance was impressive reaching roughly 640 km/h at 29.500 feet.

    According to the author the P-47 was not a good plane for dogfighting or low level attacks but it was ‘excellent in higher altitudes, in diving attacks and flying at maximum boost’.

    P-51 ‘Mustang’

    The famous P-51 ‘Mustang’ is one of the most iconic WWII aircraft. It had extraordinary long range for a single engine aircraft and it successfully escorted US bombers in Axis controlled territory.

    In June ’44 a P-51B landed at Cambrai-South airfield during the Normandy invasion. Getting so close to the front was dangerous for Lerche so everything had to be done fast. A Ju 188 fast bomber was used for transport and the P-51 was quickly set up and flown by him.

    The Mustang was tested extensively and Lerche calls it a ‘truly unique aircraft’. It was very fast at all heights and the performance was very good in all aspects. At an altitude of 23.000 feet it had a speed of ~670km/h.

    The negative aspects were: lack of longitudinal stability when the fuel tanks filled to a certain extent, at full throttle it stalled ‘even in a sharp turn’ and the engine required careful handling as ‘when revving up it reacted very sensitively to the correct operating temperatures and, if handled roughly, it countered with unsteady running.’

    Lavochkin La-5

    The Soviet Lavochkin La-5 fighter was introduced in large numbers in 1943 and it was substantially better than the previous fighter planes of the Red AF.

    In September ’44 a La-FN was captured at Gross-Schimanen, East Prussia. This plane was tested and the author found it to be a dangerous opponent at low altitudes.

    His final report said that the La-5 had noteworthy performance below 3.000m but top speed was below that of German fighters. Range was short with roughly 40min of flight at the rated power, less with supercharger engaged.

    The main problems identified were that fumes from the engine entered the cockpit and the engine was excessively noisy: ‘by no means pleasant was the noisy running of the La-5 engine, which had deafened me by the evening. On later flights I always tried to remember bringing along some cotton wool to plug my ears’.

    Yakovlev Yak-3

    The Yak-3 was introduced in 1944 and due to its light weight had impressive performance characteristics.

    In January ’45 a Yak landed intact at Gross-Schimanen airfield, the same one that Lerche had visited recently. After an inspection it was flown back to Rechlin.

    The Yak-3 weighed roughly 2.500 (5.512) kg and had a power loading of 4.5 lb/hp. Speed and acceleration were very good but performance at altitude was poor.

    This plane was used not only for testing but was also ordered to Oranienburg airport to take part in an exhibition for Field Marshal Goering. Lerche flew the plane there and had to stand attention during the presentation. Then Goering asked him questions on the performance of the Yak.  

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  • 09/13/13--03:22: NSA impersonating Google?
  • The plot thickens…

    NSA and GCHQ might have been able to spy on people by impersonating Google.

    According to motherjonesthey used a "man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack". Think of that next time you’re googling something!

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    Something that is mentioned often online and in popular history books is that the Germans built too many different types of armored vehicles during WWII. If only they had concentrated production on a handful of types they would have produced more AFV’s than they historically did.

    For example ‘Why the Allies won’ by Richard Overy says in page 201

    ‘At one point in the war there were no fewer than 425 different aircraft models and variants in production. By the middle of the war the German army was equipped with 151 different makes of lorry and 150 different motor-cycles. With such a variety it was difficult to produce in mass.’

    I have already covered aircraft production here, so this time let’s take a look at tanks and self propelled guns.

    I have posted the German production statistics here, using as a source the book ‘Waffen und Geheimwaffen des deutschen Heeres 1933 – 1945

    Using that table and calculating what percentage of total production each vehicle’s production represents we get:


    At first glance the myth seems to hold true! There are many different ‘types’, each representing a small percentage of production. Even the most well known vehicles do not stand out production wise.

    For example the Stug III L/48 is at 16.9%, the Panther at 12.5%, the Pz III L/42 at 4.8%, the Pz IV L/48 at 12.5%.

    Is that the end of the discussion? Definitely not! The problem for people who claim that the Germans produced too many types is that they are making a mistake in the way different vehicles are counted.

    If two different AFV’s share most of their parts then they may be counted separately but in reality they are the same vehicle.

    For example the Stug III that was built in large numbers was simply the same vehicle as the Pz III but with a fixed turret. The same was true for the Pz IV and the Stug IV/Jagdpanzer IV.

    If we add up the Pz III, Pz IV, Panther and their fixed turret variants Stug III, Stug/Jagd IV/air-defense versions and JagdPanther then we get 74% of total AFV production. Notice that I haven’t added the Hummel and Nashorn that were built with parts from both the Pz III and the Pz IV, if we add them too then the percentage is 77%.

    Panzer 38 production adds another 13.3%. This vehicle was produced throughout the war, first as a tank and then as a self propelled gun not because the Germans were awed by its performance but rather because they had captured the production facilities in Czechoslovakia and couldn’t use them for other purposes.

    Even the lowly Pz II was built as a self propelled gun during the war in order to use the existing tank production facilities.

    Considering all of the above it is obvious that the Germans built the same basic vehicle types during the war. Instead of introducing new types they simply modified existing types.

    In 1940-42 production was centered on the Pz III, Pz IV and Stug III. Since Pz III and Stug III were basically the same vehicle that’s two main types plus the Pz 38.

    In 1943-45 the Pz IV and Stug III/IV were joined by the Panther, while the Pz III was no longer built as a tank. So instead of two basic vehicle types we have three ( Pz IV-Stug IV-Jagdpanzer IV, Stug III, Panther) plus the Pz 38 in its SPG variant.

    The situation per year is as follows, regarding the top three vehicles by production percentage (counting each vehicle separately):

    For 1940


    Pz III


    Pz 38


    Pz IV




    For 1941


    Pz III


    Pz 38


    Stug III




    For 1942


    Pz III


    Pz IV


    Pz II





    For 1943


    Stug III


    Pz IV






    For 1944


    Stug III





    Pz IV





    For 1945




    Stug III


    Jagd IV






    It is true that the Germans built several different armored vehicle types during WWII. They did so mainly because they already had the production facilities for some of these types and they couldn’t afford to retool them. Instead obsolete tanks like the Pz III and Pz 38 were produced as self propelled guns.

    However even under these circumstances three vehicles the Pz III, Pz IV and Panther (plus their fixed turret variants) accounted for most of the German AFV production, at 77%. Add the Pz 38 and you go to 90%.

    The idea that they could have produced more if they concentrated on one type (like the Soviets did with the T-34 or the Americans and their M-4 Sherman) is not correct. Production was limited by the existing facilities and the low priority that was given to AFV production in the German war economy.

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  • 09/19/13--11:48: Greek radio stations 1940
  • An interesting file can be found in the British archives, folder HW 40/195 ‘Selected correspondence from the archives of OKW/CHI’.

    In 1940 the Lauf and Treuenbrietzen stations that intercepted foreign radio traffic for the German High Command’s decryption department - OKW/Chi, were ordered to give special attention to Greek radio traffic.

    The report of 19 January 1940 says:

    Because of the geographical dispersion of the Greek state in a large number of islands separated from each other by long distances there has been for some time an internal Greek wireless traffic, above all between the mainland and individual islands (e.g. Crete) and probably between island and island also.

    Then a list of Greek radio stations follows.


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    Ever since the former NSA employee Edward Snowden revealed the extent of NSA’s and GCHQ’s internet spying there has been a backlash against the secretive and obviously unlawful operations of NSA and its allies.

    On the one hand people have complained about the indiscriminate interception of the entire world’s internet and phone traffic, while the other (much less numerous) side, made up of people associated with the NSA and the US intelligence community, has tried to make the argument that even if certain laws were broken it was all in the interest of ‘national security’.

    According to their side people should just shut up and deal with the complex realities of cyber warfare, internet spying and all that jazz. Oh and of course we shouldn’t listen to Snowden cause he’s just a Chinese/Russian spy and has psychological problems and and and.

    That strategy was more or less effective at the start of this story and I remember that many (independent?) media started focusing on Snowden and not on the Orwellian policies of the NSA.

    It is a testament to the professionalism of Snowden’s collaborator Glenn Greenwald that important material is released in a steady basis, so the media aren’t overwhelmed by the information. This means that critics have to focus on the NSA activities and cannot sidetrack the discussion with accusations about Snowden’s motives or his personal life.

    This strategy of the Snowden team has left the ‘defenders of the realm’ holding their dick in their hands (as we say in Greece) 

    Now the question of surveillance/spying and the limits that have to be imposed is a difficult issue. The defenders of the NSA can claim that they need to intercept everything, subvert codes and break computer software because that will help them arrest spies, terrorists and other bad guys.

    Looking back through history it is interesting to compare their efforts with the activities of the British intelligence agencies during WWII.

    The Brits had to deal with foreign states like Germany, Japan, Italy and the Soviet Union that had extensive espionage networks throughout the world and were often supported by other ‘neutral’ countries.

    Although in 1939-40 British intelligence was woefully inadequate during the war their performance picked up and they were able to dismantle enemy networks and build up their presence in ‘neutral’ countries like Spain, Turkey, Sweden and Switzerland.

    In their efforts they were assisted by signals intelligence. The German intelligence agency Abwehr used the Enigma G cipher machine for communication between main stations. This device was ‘solved’ by the Brits in late 1941 and most traffic in the period 1942-45 was solved. Agents abroad relied on hand ciphers, mainly substitution systems. Again most of these could be solved by Bletchley Park during the war.

    Through signals intelligence the Brits were able to learn quite a lot about the German spy networks and the Abwehr OOB.

    Notice that their operation was targeted, they didn’t intercept everything nor did they have to treat their own population as a security risk. Mail was checked for secret writing and microdots but in this case we are talking about a time of war not peace like today.

    All these measures must have saved Britain! If it wasn’t for the ‘defenders of the realm’ then obviously they’d be speaking Deutsche and eating weisswurst today. Or maybe there is another explanation?

    Let’s have a look at the official history ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War: Volume 4, Security and Counter-Intelligence’as it should clear things up. In page 280 it says that wartime successes in counterintelligence depended on a combination of factors, the most important being:

    Great Britain being an island, it was possible in war-time to impose strict control of entry which could not be easily evaded. The vulnerable back door via the uncontrollable frontier between Northern Ireland and Eire was protected by the Eire government's vigorous actionagainst the IRA and its determination that Eire should not be used as a base for espionage or sabotage against the United Kingdom. Besides this geographical advantage, in 1939 and throughout the war the United Kingdom had a homogeneous population in which patriotism was still regarded as a cardinal virtue and which, apart from a numerically insignificant minority, was deeply hostile to the Nazi regime. What the Security Executive described as the 'different loyalty' of the leadership and indoctrinated cadres of the CPGB helped Germany only incidentally, and only until she attacked the Soviet Union in June,1941.

    So maybe instead of intercepting our internet and phone traffic the Americans can follow these simple guidelines:

    1). Make sure their borders are secure and work with Canada and Mexico to ensure this.

    2). Have faith in the patriotism of their countrymen to report suspicious activity and deny help to evil spies, terrorists, hackers etc.

    But doing something so simple would mean the US intelligence budget would need to be much smaller than 50 plus billion, wouldn’t it?

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    During WWII the Germans tried to take advantage of the fact that Britain was dependent on imports of raw materials and foodstuffs for its economy to function.

    The U-boats tried to sink as many merchant ships as possible so that their valuable cargo would be lost to the British.

    The article Fighting fit: how dietitians tested if Britain would be starved into defeat reveals that the British authorities carried out an experiment in order to discover what would happen if the populace had to depend only on homegrown foodstuffs. Would they starve to death?

    According to the article:

    British food production in 1938 became the basis for the experimental diet: one egg a week (a third of the pre-war consumption); a quarter of a pint of milk a day (half the pre-war consumption); a pound of meat and 4oz of fish per week, assuming trawlers would be commandeered for patrols. No butter and just 4oz of margarine. But they could eat as much potato, vegetables, and wholemeal bread as they wanted. The eight guinea pigs would follow this diet for three months.

    Surprisingly the participants in the experiment did not suffer from malnutrition but only from less serious ‘side effects’:

    Happily, the gloomy spectres of famine oedema, scurvy, and anaemia did not arise. The guinea pigs felt fit and well on the ration and could do their usual work. But there were two main difficulties. One was that meals took a long time to eat. Wholemeal bread without butter took ages to chew. The sheer quantity of potato needed to make up calories also took time to eat. All the fibre in the diet caused 250% bigger poos. They measured it.The other problem with eating all that starch was the amount of flatus – gas – that it produced

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    The well known Soviet T-34 tank has been called the best tank of WWII in countless history books. I have presented a very different picture of its capabilities and performance here.

    I’ve also written about the experiences of a German unit that used the T-34 model ’43 in combat and also presented information on the German response to the KV and T-34 tanks.

    In order to find more information on various aspects of WWII I always have a look online at various sites and forums. Sometimes one can find an interesting link or a quote from a book that reveals new information. Unfortunately most of the time I’m left shaking my head at the moronic arguments, circular reasoning and lack of common sense that one often finds online.

    However with a bit of luck some diamonds do turn up in the most unlikely places. In the comments of a piece at the world of tanks site ‘For the record’ the commenter ‘ Mo’ (comment of September 6, 2013 at 1:17 am) linked to a US study of Soviet equipment that doesn’t seem to paint the Soviet equipment in such a good light:

    Good quality WWII Russian armor and shell steel? The CIA disagrees.
    Check out another CIA analysis of Russian armor and welding.

    It must be an unlucky coincidence that his link lo longer works.

    The report ‘Review of Soviet ordnance metallurgy’ is dated 10 April 1953 and can be downloaded from here.

    It has interesting details on the quality (or lack thereof) of Soviet weaponry. I’m particularly interested in the T-34 evaluation so here are some quotes:

    ‘The ordnance Corps's first contact with modern Soviet tank armor was in 1943 when two tanks were provided to this country by the Soviet government for performance tests at Aberdeen Proving Ground. These tanks were the T-34 medium tank and the KV-1 heavy tank.’

    Note: The T-34 sent to the US for testing belonged to a special batch built in spring 1942 at Nizhny Tagil. Five T-34 were built with one being sent to the USA, one to the UK, two to the front and the last remaining at the plant.

    The plant was specifically chosen because it had the highest quality of T-34 production, at that time. All components were built with the outmost attention to quality. As such the tanks were not indicative of the average production but were of much higher quality. Source: ‘Tankovy udar. Sovetskie tanki v boyakh. 1942-1943’

    What was the US assessment? Let’s see:

    ‘The armor components of the T-34 tank, with the exception of the bow casting which was unheat-treated, were heat-treated to very high hardnesses(430-500 Brinell), probably in an attempt to secure maximum resistance to penetration by certain classes of armor-piercing projectiles even at the expense of structural integrity under ballistic attack.’

    ‘The quality of the armor steels ranged from poor to excellent. Wide variations in production technique were indicated; some rolled armor components were well cross-rolled while others were virtually straightaway rolled………The bow casting of the T-34 tank was very unsound and would have been rejected under American standards.’

    'The design of the welded joints was characterized by dovetailing such that the edges of the lighter plates were set into niches machined or flame-cut into the heavier sections so that the surfaces of the lighter plates were approximately flush with the edges of the heavier sections…..Although the fundamental design of the joints appeared excellent, the fit-up, appearance, and execution of the joint design and welding was generally poor.’

    Shallow penetration, poor fusion, severe undercutting, porosity, and cracking was observed in most of the welds and probably resulted from improper manipulation of electrodes which mightnot have had suitable operating characteristics….. These obvious defects, together with low strength and pour metallurgical structure of ferritic weld deposits, indicate that the welded joints would have poor resistance to severe shock.’

    Now I know what you’re thinking. It was 1942 so the quality problems were undeniably due to the war situation and the relocation of industry to the Urals. Obviously the US report will mention this:

    ‘The results obtained from the metallurgical examination of these early world war ii Soviet tanks have been described in some detail since they are exactly the same as have been obtained from all examinations performed since thenof Soviet tanks which were recovered in Germany after the end of world war ii, and on Soviet tanks which were captured in Korea during 1950-52. The Ordnance Corps has examined several Soviet JS-IIwhich were found in Germany and several Soviet T-34 tanks from both Germany and Korea.’

    Hmm I guessed wrong…. No worries let’s continue with the quotes:

    ‘Some of the armor steels have surprisingly high toughness considering the very high hardness levels but many of the armor steels, even the softer ones, are very brittle.’

    ‘The very high hardness encountered in most Soviet tank armor has caused much unnecessary concern regarding the relative ballistic performance of the hard Soviet armor and the softer American armor. Many people associate high hardness with high resistance to penetration. Although this is true, within limits, in the case of attack of armor by undermatching projectiles (i.e. caliber of shot is less than the tnickness of the armor) particularly at low obliquities of attack, it definitely not true when the armor is attacked by larger caliber shot at higher obliquities of impact’

    You don’t say…. So maybe the T-34’s 45mm hull armor was not the best choice given the widespread use of the German KwK 40/Pak 40 75mm gun? (used in Pz IV, Stug and self-propelled vehicles). Who would have thought?

    ‘Although welds in Soviet tanks are inferior in quality and much more brittle than corresponding, welds in American tanks, this condition has not been amajor factor in impairing the battlefield performance of  Soviet armor. Poor joint fits, sloppy appearance, jagged and rough finishes should not divert attention from the fact that the Soviet tanks are rugged and battleworth and require many fewer man-hours of labor and precision machine tools, jigs, and fixtures to construct than American tanks of corresponding offensive capabilities.

    This is a very interesting argument. Quantity over quality. But notice that there are no numbers to back it up. The author simply assumes that poor construction means a Soviet emphasis on production and not an inability of Soviet industry to produce quality products.

    This is confirmed in the next sentence:

    ‘it would be very interesting to compare, for example, the relative man-hours of labor and investment in machine tools to construct equivalent numbers of the American 76 mm, Gun Tank T41 and the Soviet T-34/85.’

    Yes that would be interesting but the author hasn’t done it, probably due to lack of reliable Soviet data…

    The study concludes:

    ‘It must be borne in mind that the Soviet ordnance materiel described in this paper was mostly of world War IImanufacture and represents design concepts which, for the greater part, were established as early as 1940-1942. It cannot be said with any certainty that these design concepts are, in all cases, still adhered to by the Soviets.’

    ‘From  a metallurgical point of view, it would appear that the Soviets have attained equality with this country in the matter of technical information but not in technological development or in skill and training of metals workers such as weldors, foundrymen and machinists.’

    There is also a restatement of the quantity over quality argument, again however with no data to back it up.

    ‘In closing, it should be emphasized that this country could do well to emulate the Soviet practice of employing finely machined finishes only where needed. The same applies to high quality, carefully prepared welded joints, castings, and other metal products. Detailed attention to aesthetic appearances is costly, time consuming, and, throughout the history of man, is not known to have won a single war.’

    My advice is to read this study if you’re interested in Soviet WWII equipment.

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    So far I’ve presented lots of interesting information on the compromise of the State Departments strip cipher during WWII.

    The M-138-A strip cipher carried the most important diplomatic traffic of the United States (at least until late 1944) and by reading these messages the Axis powers gained insights into global US policy.

    The strip cipher was not a weak system cryptologically, even though it could not offer the security of cipher machines. The success of German and Finnish codebreakers was facilitated in many cases by the poor way that the system was used by the State Department.

    Each embassy was provided with 50 ‘special’ alphabet strips and 50 ‘circulars’. The ‘specials’ were used for direct communications between that embassy and Washington. The ‘circulars’ were used for communications between embassies and for messages sent from Washington to more than one embassy.

    Each day 30 different strips were selected from the 50 and entered into the metal frame. The strips and the order that they were inserted in was the daily ‘key’.

    The major mistakes made by the State’s cipher department were:

    1). During the period that the strips were valid there were only 40 different rearrangements for them and not a separate key for each day.

    2). The ‘special’ strips were not destroyed after the period of validity had passed but instead in many cases they were sent to another embassy to be used there.

    3). The ‘special’ strips used by each embassy differed from those used at other embassies but it seems that the daily ‘key’ was the same for all. (may have changed during the war)

    4). The same messages were sometimes sent in ‘circular’ and ‘special’ strips.

    5). The same messages were sometimes sent in low/mid level book codes and the strip cipher.

    Without these mistakes the Axis effort would have been considerably hindered.

    What kind of department was responsible for the way that the State Department used the M-138 during the war? This question required quite a lot of research into the archives in order to track down the relevant documents.

    There is a ‘History of the Division of Cryptography’ which can be found in NARA collection RG 59.


    According to this study (and other documents) prior to September 1944, when the Division of Cryptography was established, the State Departments cryptographic functions were performed by a small unit in the Division of Communications and Records, under the supervision of the Division chief mr David A.Salmon. When in August ’43 he was assigned Assistant Security Officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration he retained his cryptographic responsibilities.


    Mr Salmon’s small unit was not a cryptologic department and could only handle the basic tasks of preparing cipher material and the instructions on their use. Obviously this was one of the reasons that there were serious problems with cipher security during the war.


    However it would be dishonest to try to pin all the blame on mr Salmon and his unit. Apparently the State’s leadership had rejected the purchase of secure cipher machines in 1941 due to the financial cost. Instead they kept using the same codebooks (Gray, A1,B1,C1,D1) for decades.  The Brown code and the Strip cipher were the only new systems introduced in the 1930’s.

    Anything else to report? Well actually it seems that mr Salmon may have been a Soviet spy all along! According to the wikipedia page on mr Salmon the book ‘Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America’ names him as a Soviet spy…

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