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Military and intelligence history mostly dealing with World War II.

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    The signal intelligence agencies of small nations usually receive little to no attention from historians, mostly due to the lack of primary sources.

    The Estonian sigint agency monitored Soviet traffic during the 1930’s and cooperated with the similar departments of Germany and Finland. Unfortunately it is very difficult to find information on their operations and successes.

    Some information is available from the very interesting article ‘Estonian Interwar Radio-Intelligence’ by Ivo Juurvee (Baltic Defence Review No. 10 Volume 2/2003) , uploaded on site

    Some quotes:

    ‘The Estonian pre-war military intelligence service - the Second Department of the General Staff - and especially its radio-intelligence branch, Section D, have not been researched much…’

    ‘The Wireless Station of the General Staff in Tallinn intercepted the first radio messages of the Red Army during the War of Independence (1918-1920).’

    ‘In contrast to other parts of the Second Department, the personnel of Section D as of summer 1940 is precisely known: it was 26 people . two officers, 23 NCOs and one private. Nobody had been hired before 1936. This confirms the supposition that Section D was formed in 1936-1937. The second officer, Olev Õun, was taken to service only in March 1938; so far Andres Kalmus had managed to supervise the section alone. Radio-intelligence had gone through two major enlargements. The first of them was at the beginning of 1937, when Section D had just started its work. The second occurred in summer of 1939, when, according to President Konstantin Päts. secret decree from July 10, .due to complex situation [in Europe] naval radio intelligence has been reinforced.. With the order of the Commander-in-Chief General Johan Laidoner from July 22, the radio crew of the Second Department was enlarged .substantially..’

    The top codebreakers were Andres Kalmus and Olev Õun. Note that these names also show up in some TICOM reports.

    ‘Captain Kalmus had followed military radio courses abroad.’

    ‘Olev Õun was especially talented, who was, in Hallamaa’s opinion, a phenomenal decipherer and had managed to break the latest code of the Red Army during the Polish campaign in September 1939.’

    ‘In 1939-1940 Section D units were stationed in Merivälja (7 km to the East from the city centre of Tallinn, probably next to the lighthouse of Viimsi, where the post of Naval Communications was situated, or somewhere in the area of nowadays Ranniku Road or Mõisa Road), Narva (probably at Olgino Mason 5 km to the North-East from city centre) and Tartu (probably in some of the units of the 2nd Division).’

    ‘When the Second Department closed down, it handed 51 items of literature over to the Red Army, including nine items concerning cryptology, a Russian-Estonian military dictionary and three Krypto ciphering clocks.’

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    During WWII the high level cryptosystem used by the US State Department was the M-138-A strip cipher. Unfortunately for the Allies this system was regularly solved by the codebreakers of several Axis nations.

    I’ve given details of the German work on the strip cipher hereand here.

    However there is one thing about this affair that still bugs me. The German solution of the strip system was facilitated by the material they received from their Japanese allies.

    Agents of the Japanese Military Police were able to enter the US consulate in Kobe in late 1937 and they copied the 0-1 ‘circular’ set of alphabet strips. This was used for communications between embassies and for messages from Washington to all embassies. This material was shared with the Germans in 1941.

    However this material was not the only set of strips that the Germans were able to acquire covertly. Dr Wolfgang Franz, who was responsible for the strip solution at the German High Command’s deciphering department – OKW/Chi, said in his report TICOM DF-176, p6:

    ‘Especially laborious and difficult work was connected with an American system which, judging by all indications was of great importance. This was the strip cipher system of the American diplomatic service which was subsequently solved in part. After I had been working on it for a long time and was beginning to get some insight into the system, the work was greatly furthered by some captured material. This was given to me with no word as to its provenance.  From inscriptions and notes, however, one could infer that these were Japanese photographs. These were the basic material of the so-called ‘intercommunication strip cipher system 0-1’ and three further sets for special circuits between the Department and Reval, Tallinn and Helsinki (?) with designations of the type 19-1 or something similar. With these, several older messages could be read and the door was opened for further study of the system.’

    According to David Kahn in ’Finland's Codebreaking in World War II’ in ‘In the Name of Intelligence: Essays in Honor of Walter Pforzheimer’:

    The Finns got their break into the strip system when the German military espionage agency, the Abwehr, whose chief, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, was a friend of Hallamaa, gave them photocopies of instructions for the strip cipher and of the strips for Washington's communications with the posts at Riga(which had been closed since June 1940) and Helsinki, as well as the 0-1 set.

    How did the Germans get hold of the strips for Riga, Tallinn and Helsinki? From what I’ve read the Japanese were the source for the 0-1 set not the rest.

    The strips from the embassies of the Baltic countries could have a connection with a Finnish civilian plane shot down by the Soviets in 1940.

    The Kaleva was a Finnish civilian airliner that was shot down by Soviet planes on June 14, 1940, while en route from Tallinn to Helsinki.

    Onboard was a US diplomatic courier, mr Henry W. Antheil, Jrwho was apparently carrying diplomatic pouches from the U.S. legations in Tallinn and Riga. According to the wikipedia page the plane crashed at sea and the first on the scene were three Estonian fishing boats. Then a Soviet submarine reached the location and recovered all the material from the Estonians. This amounted to:

    about 100 kg of diplomatic mail, and valuables and currencies including: 1) 2 golden medals, 2) 2000 Finnish marks, 3) 10.000 Romanian leus, 4)13.500 French francs, 5) 100 Yugoslav dinars, 6) 90 Italian liras, 7) 75 US dollars, 8) 521 Soviet rubles, 9) 10 Estonian kroons. All items were put on board of patrol boat "Sneg" and sent to Kronstadt

    So the question remains. If the alphabet strips from the Baltics were recovered from the Kaleva plane, who got them and how did they end up in German hands?

    Perhaps the Estonian fishermen were able to search the diplomatic bags and they retrieved the cipher material. Then when they got back to Estonia they could have given these to the military authorities who in turn shared them with the Germans.

    That’s one theory.

    Another one could be that the Soviets after recovering the diplomatic bags searched them thoroughly and recovered the alphabet strips. If that was the case then how could the Germans have gotten hold of them?

    Could there be an exchange of secret material between the intelligence agencies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union? In the period 1939-1941 they were officially allies’….
    Quite a mystery!

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    The very interesting report ADM 213/951‘German steel armour piercing projectiles and theory of penetration’ is available from World of Tanks forum user Daigensui.

    From page 19 onwards there is a review of the German method of staging and conducting tank round penetration trials. Source of the information was

    ‘The writer was fortunate in tracing Oberbaurat HENNING TELTZ of Wa Pruef 1 (1X). This man was in charge of the firing of all trials of A.P. Shell against armour plate, masonry, concrete and soil and was responsible to Oberst Plas. He joined the H.W.A. in July 1933 and thus had considerable experience. He had been living under an assumed name and informed the author that he was the first allied officer who had interviewed him. He was cooperative and appeared to be most efficient and it is thought that the information given by him is complete and trustworthy.’

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  • 11/25/13--01:17: Update
  • I have uploaded TICOM report DF-116-K ‘The German intercept station in Sofia’ - 1948, written by Wilhelm Flicke.

    Available from my Scribd and Google docs accounts.

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    The German High Command’s deciphering department – OKW/Chi intercepted radio traffic from various stations both in Germany and abroad.

    Stations in neutral countries operated covertly, so as not to attract the attention of the Allies.

    One such station was based in Sofia, Bulgaria. During WWII Bulgaria followed a pro-Axis policy and declared war on Britain and the United States but did not take part in the fighting.

    According to Wilhelm Flicke, who worked for OKW/Chi, an intercept station was set up in Sofia, Bulgaria in January 1940. The station was housed in the former residence of the Communist official Stoitscheff who had fled the country.
    Officially it was designated ‘Seismographic and weather reporting station’ but the local authorities knew its true function and cooperated with the Germans. The cover name of the station was ‘Bohrer’, it had about 25-30 men and head of the station was 1st lieutenant Grotz. Emphasis was given on the interception of radio traffic from Turkey and Malta, as well as stations from Egypt, Sweden, Switzerland and the US Armed forces in the Mediterranean.

    The station had a direct teleprinter connection with OKW/Chi and in addition there was a courier plane between Sofia and Berlin.

    Even though Bulgarian officials helped in setting up the station this does not mean that the Germans held back from attacking their codes. According to Flicke copies of the Bulgarian codebooks were acquired by the Abwehr (military intelligence) station in Sofia.

    As the German position in the Balkans began to unravel in 1944 the Sofia station was closed down. This operation did not run smoothly. The equipment was loaded into two freight cars and the personnel sold their unwanted items. With the money earned they bought 80.000 cigarettes that they expected would be valuable back home. However this ‘treasure’ was lost when the railway car was attacked by partisans and the ammunition stored together with the cigarettes burned up.

    Moral of the story, never store tobacco and ammunition together, especially if you’re travelling through the Balkans!

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    Randy Rezabek of TICOM archive has uploaded more Seabourne reports. The new ones cover cryptanalysis in the German AF, the OKW Radio Defence Corps and the Signal intelligence Service of the Luftwaffe.

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    At the end of WWII the Western Allies were able to arrest and interrogate many German codebreakers. In addition the archives (or parts of them) of several German signal intelligence agencies fell into their hands.

    This information is contained in the numerous TICOM (Target Intelligence Committee) reports that I have uploaded to the internet.

    However is the information from the TICOM reports accurate? Or were the Germans either exaggerating or downplaying their successes?

    The validity of some of the statements made in TICOM reports can be assessed by checking the archives of the agencies mentioned in them.

    If a German Naval codebreaker said that they broke a specific code in a specific time period then the archives of the B-Dienst would be expected to confirm this information. Same thing for the codebreakers of other agencies of the Third Reich.

    However what happens when the relevant archives are either not available or have parts missing?

    Then it becomes difficult to judge the truthfulness of some of the statements made by the Germans.

    Case in point is their success in solving the State Department’s strip cipher.

    Three different agencies worked on the US diplomatic M-138-A strip cipher. The German High Command’s deciphering department – OKW/Chi, the Foreign Ministry’s deciphering deparment Pers Z and the Air Ministry’s Research Department - Reichsluftfahrtministerium Forschungsamt.

    Since many officials from these organizations were arrested and interrogated by the Allies one would expect that we would have a clear picture of their success against the strip cipher. Yet this is not true. On the contrary, there many gaps in our knowledge of their efforts and successes against this system.

    At the Forschungsamt some work was done on the strip but apart from the fact that they solved some traffic we don’t know any more details.

    At OKW/Chi an entire team worked on the strip, led by the mathematician Wolfgang Franz.  The information given by Franz who was interrogated in 1949 is limited. In his report DF-176 he said in pages 6-9:

    ‘Especially laborious and difficult work was connected with an American system which, judging by all indications was of great importance. This was the strip cipher system of the American diplomatic service which was subsequently solved in part.’

    This system was so important that more workers were hired to work on it.

    ‘On the basis of gradual successes with the Am10 –that was the designation of the strip cipher system- Dr Huettenhain succeeded in securing the appointment of assistants despite vigorous opposition on the part of the administrative office and the philological sections.’

    But Franz doesn’t give any details about the links that were solved or the information gained. He simply said:

    All told, some 28 circuits were solved at the Bureau under my guidance, likewise six numerical keys-some of them only in part.’

    He also downplayed his success:

    ‘To be sure, only a few solutions came in good time; in most cases there were lags of one to one and a half years. Since the essential principles were recognized too late and necessary personnel and aids were not available at the time.’

    Would the Germans invest more manpower and even build cryptanalytic equipment in order to solve traffic that was years old? It does seem strange…

    Even stranger is what Franz says in page 11:

    ‘At the end of the war I was on an official journey to retrieve some material which had been lent to the Foreign Office and was overtaken by American troops in Northern Germany.’

    Hmm what kind of material did Dr Franz want to retrieve? Maybe it was relevant to the strip solution, maybe not, we’ll probably never know.

    Erich Huettenhain, who was the chief cryptanalyst of OKW/Chi also had a leaky memory when it came to the strip cipher. In TICOM I-2 ‘Interrogation of Dr. Huettenhain and Dr. Fricke at Flenshurg,21 May 1945’, he said:

    ‘Q. What work was done on British and American codes and ciphers?

    A. Diplomatic - most of the American strip cipher was read, strip cipher was used by the military as well as by the diplomatic.’

    In TICOM I-145 ‘Report on the US strip system by Reg Rat Dr Huettenhain’ he changed his mind:

    ‘Only a little of the material received could be read at once. Generally it was back traffic that was read. As, however, the different sets of strips were used at different times by other stations, it was possible, in isolated cases, to read one or the other of the special traffics currently. We are of opinion that of the total material received, at the most one fifth was read, inclusive of back traffic. None was read after the beginning of 1944.’

    In TICOM I-145 ‘Report on the US strip system by Reg Rat Dr Huettenhain’ he said:

    On the basis of the cypher data received, the traffic on the one key could be read. In the course of time, as a result of compromises or partial compromises of the traffic on this key, or with the aid of other readable cypher traffic, other sets of strips were discovered by cryptanalysis. can no longer state how many different sets of strips were reconstructed; probably 10 to 20.’

    But in an unpublished manuscript written in 1970 he said:

    ‘Auf diese Weise wurden von 1942 bis September 1944 insgesamt 22 verschiedene Linien und alle cq-Sprüche mitgelesen’

    Translation: In this way, were read by 1942 to September 1944, a total of 22 different links and all cq (call to quarters) messages.

    Note that the OKW/Chi activity report DF-9 for the first half of 1944, says:

    Government codes and ciphers of 33 European and extra-European States and agents lines were worked on and deciphered. 17.792 VN were produced including 6.000 agents messages. From point of view of numbers the list was headed by Government reports of the USA, Poland and Turkey.

    A number of complicated recipherings, principally American (USA) and Polish, have been broken.’

    This must have been a reference to the US strip cipher, in which case Huettenhain’s statements about limited success ring false.

    Apart from the Forschungsamt and OKW/Chi the Pers Z department worked on the strip cipher.

    The Foreign Ministry’s deciphering deparment Pers Z devoted significant resources against the US diplomatic strip cipher. A team of mathematicians, led by Professor Hans Rohrbach made extensive use of IBM/Hollerith punch card equipment in their efforts to solve the alphabet strips. Rohrbach admitted to solving the circular set 0-2 but what of other sets?

    Unfortunately I don’t have Rohrbach’s TICOM report (yet) but the Cryptologia article ‘Report on the decipherment of the American strip cipher 0-2 by the German Foreign Office' summarizes his work.

    Rohrbach says that systematic work on the solution of the cipher began in November 1942 but in Huettenhain’s files there is a report that says that Pers Z was working on a US diplomatic system since 1939-40…

    Rohrbach also says that:

    As to technical means, we had at our disposal in 1942-44 a good selection of Hollerith machines. We frequently used probability and statistics theory mainly in order to decide whether or not an observed phenomenon was caused by chance or was, in fact, due to some encipherment.’

    But another Pers Z cryptanalyst, Dr Schultz,  said in TICOM report I-22 ‘Interrogation of German Cryptographers of Pers Z S Department of the Auswaertiges Amt’, p16 that the greatest achievement of the mathematical research section was the solution of the 0-2 strips entirely by hand.

    So what can we conclude from all these conflicting statements? Obviously we do not know the full story of the German success with the State Department’s strip cipher!
    Acknowledgements: I have to thank Michael van der Muelen for sharing the TICOM report DF-176 ’Answers written by professor doctor Wolfgang Franz to questions of ASA Europe’

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    There is said to be a race of creatures called the Gremlins. In their original form these creatures are cute and cuddly.

    However if you give them food after midnight or if you throw water at them they turn into monsters!
    Now I thought this was just a myth but a 1944 report of the Office of Strategic Services reveals the presence of gremlins in Sweden.
    On the other hand maybe ‘gremlins’ was a codeword for the two US cryptologists sent to Sweden to clarify which State Department codes were solved by the Finnish codebreakers. They were Paavo Carlson of the Signals Intelligence Service and Paul E. Goldsberry of the State Department.
    Personally I prefer the first explanation.

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    The NSA and GCHQ intercept and record all communications in order to protect ‘the people’ from evil terrorists.

    The Guardian reveals that these agencies are intercepting the communications of players in games like World of Warcraft and Second Life.

    Way to go guys! There are bound to be several Al-Qaeda cells in there. Don’t forget Counterstrike. Lots of terrorists there and they usually win most of the rounds….

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  • 12/13/13--02:27: The Pope’s codes

                                                     The Pope! How many divisions has he got?
                                                                                     Joseph Stalin

    Although the Pope doesn’t have any divisions he has always been one of the most powerful men on the planet. As leader of the Catholic Church and head of the Vatican Statehe can wield great influence on world affairs.

    With millions of followers all over the globe the Catholic Church has traditionally been well informed of world events. The numerous Catholic churches with their priests, bishops and other officials have always transmitted information back to the Vatican. In order to protect its communications from outsiders the Catholic Church has used various cryptologic systems.

    During WWII the communications of the Vatican attracted the attention of numerous codebreaking agencies. Both the Axis and the Allies tried to exploit these messages and they succeeded, in part.


    German effort:

    Three different agencies worked on Vatican codes. The German High Command’s deciphering department – OKW/Chi, the Foreign Ministry’s deciphering deparment Pers Z and the Air Ministry’s Research Department - Reichsluftfahrtministerium Forschungsamt.

    The Germans spied on the Catholic Church because they knew that the internal opposition to Hitler and the Polish intelligence service had connections with the Vatican.

    Unfortunately the information on their successes and failures versus Vatican systems is limited.


    European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II, vol3 says in page 69:

    Around the beginning of the war, a desk was established for attacks on Vatican traffic. Seifert, a former member of the Austrian Cryptanalytic Bureau, joined OKW/Chi at the time of the Anschluss and broke a Vatican book.

    Pers Z

    European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II, vol6 says in page 33:


    The 1940 Report of the Italian Group (Paschke) made it clear that while approximately 50 per cent of the Vatican traffic could be read, the traffic was not a major Pers Z S commitment. Reference was made to a one part, three-letter code, enciphered by a transposition within the groups, and to a one-part figure code, enciphered by means of substitution alphabets and a sliding strip. Most of the book groups were secured from Goering's "Research" Bureau (FA).


    It seems that serious work on Vatican cryptosystems was done at Goering’s Forschungsamt. However the information from TICOM reports on the work and successes of the FA is very limited.

    European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II, vol7 says in page 88:

    Vatican Code,

    In  a captured Pers ZS reconstruction of a Vatican Code Book the signature of a Fraulien Titschak appears with the date of August 1939 and a notation that she had copied out values at that time for the FA (Fraulien Titschak was a member of the Foreign Office Cryptanalytic Bureau). The Annual Report of the Italian Group of Pars ZS for 1940 indicates that while Pers ZS did some work on Vatican systems most or the identifications on Vatican systems were received, from the FA.

    Several reports were written in the postwar period by former workers of the FA but these have not yet been declassified by the NSA.

    Italian effort:

    The Italian Army’s codebreaking department solved Vatican codes during WWI and in the interwar period. According to David Alvarez’s ‘Left in the Dust: Italian Signals Intelligence, 1915-1943’:

    Access to Vatican traffic proved a boon to Italian intelligence. Such traffic provided Rome with advance word of papal diplomatic initiatives, such as the pope’s peace proposal of August 1917 and his efforts in 1918 to mobilize Catholic opinion and lobby foreign leaders on behalf of Vatican representation at the peace conference.

    However during WWII the small number of cryptanalysts had too many commitments and it doesn’t seem like they could solve the high level Vatican messages.

    Finnish effort:

    According to David Kahn’s ‘Finland's Codebreaking in World War II':

    Among the simplest codes to crack were those of the Vatican. In the 16th century the papal curia led the world in cryptology, and AaIto thought that they had not advanced beyond that level, as described in a couple of studies of nomenclators of that period in a Finnish journal by H. Biaudet in 1910. Vatican codes were attacked by O. Nikulainen because he was the only cryptanalyst who knew Italian. However, the results had little value.


    Anglo-American effort:

    Information on the efforts of British and US codebreakers versus Vatican codes is available from the article ‘No immunity: Signals intelligence and the European neutrals, 1939-45’.

    The British codebreakers solved in 1942-43 parts of the low level code RED, a three-letter code of 12,000 groups enciphered by substitution tables. The information was shared with the US Army’s cryptanalytic agency that assigned a group of codebreakers to tackle Vatican traffic. This section was called ‘Gold’.

    Neither the British nor the Americans were able to solve the high level codes used by the Vatican.

    According to the article:

    The cryptanalysts in Gold Section were surprised at the sophistication of Vatican cryptosystems. Explaining their lack of success, they noted that 'The difficulties encountered showed that considerable intelligence was matched against the analysts', and they concluded that they were dealing with 'a cryptographer of no mean ability.' The effort against papal cryptosystems was also undermined by the complete absence of compromised cryptographic materials and the communication discipline of papal diplomats.’


    In the course of WWII the communications of the Vatican attracted the attention of both the Axis and the Allies. Both sides were able to exploit some Vatican cryptosystems but according to the information available, the Pope’s high level codes proved secure.

    Perhaps a guardian angel was looking out for the Pope.

    Sources: ‘European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II’ volumes 3,6,7, Intelligence and National Security article: ‘No immunity: Signals intelligence and the European neutrals, 1939-45’, ‘In the Name of Intelligence: Essays in Honor of Walter Pforzheimer’, International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence article: ‘Left in the Dust: Italian Signals Intelligence, 1915-1943’,

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  • 12/14/13--02:36: Update
  • I added information on the German exploitation of the codes of British liaison officers sent to occupied Yugoslavia in The secret messages of Marshall Tito and General Mihailović.

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    From the mid 1930’s the German Armed forces started using the plugboard Enigma as their main crypto system. The Enigma has received a lot of attention from historians since the solution of this traffic by the codebreakers of Bletchley Park played a role in WWII operations.

    Were the Soviets also able to solve the Enigma machine cryptanalytically? Initially there were two main Soviet cryptologic departments during WWII, one under the NKVD’s 5thSpecial Department and the other under the GRU’s 8th Department. In 1942 the Army’s cryptologic department was absorbed by the NKVD department.

    According to historian 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.

    With so many talented mathematicians could the Soviets have figured out how to solve the Enigma? Could they have built special cryptanalytic equipment like the British bombes?

    Let’s have a look at the available information.

    Regarding the theoretical solution of the Enigma:

    David Kahn who interviewed KGB General Nicolai Andreev (head of the KGB’s sigint department in the 1970-80's) in 1996 was told that the Soviets knew how to solve the Enigma and although they didn’t have bombes ‘it might have been possible to organize people to replicate the mechanisms work’.

    Regarding special cryptanalytic equipment:

    The Cryptologiaarticle ‘Summary Report of the State of the Soviet Military Sigint in November 1942 Noticing ‘ENIGMAhas a report from the GRU that says: ‘The research group of our office has revealed the possibility of solving German messages enciphered on the ‘Enigma’ machine, and started to construct equipment, speeding up the solution’

    Captured material:

    There can be no doubt that during the war both Enigma machines and valid keylists fell into Soviet hands.

    1). In December 1941 Enigma machines and documentation were lost by the German 2nd Army.

    2). After the surrender of the encircled German forces in Stalingrad in early 1943 Enigma machines and documents plus signals personnel fell into Soviet hands.

    3). According to the memoirs of Admiral Golovko documents were retrieved from the sunken U-boat 639 in August 1943: ‘Submarine S-101, which sank U 639 and recovered lists of call-signs and codes which made it possible to keep track of enemy submarines throughout the Northern theatre

    4). During the summer ’44 battles several German units were encircled and destroyed. It is safe to assume that a lot of crypto material was lost.

    Help from abroad:

    During WWII their spy John Cairncross was able to infiltrate Bletchley Park and he gave the Soviets copies of the documents that he had access to. Some dealt with the Enigma.

    So it is certain that the Soviets were able to solve Enigma messages thanks to compromised material and the possibility that during the war they managed to retrieve the daily Enigma settings cryptanalytically cannot be discounted. The only way to know for sure is for the Russian government to give researchers access to the wartime files of the NKVD 5th Department.

    Another way is to look for information from other available sources. One such source is the report ‘Russian signal intelligence 1941-45’ by Lt Col Fritz Neeb, head of evaluation for NAAS 2 (Signal Intelligence Evaluation Center) of KONA 2 (Signals intelligence Regiment 2) assigned to Army Group Centre in the Eastern Front.

    According to Neeb the Soviet signals intelligence organization was as good as or better than the Germans in traffic analysis and direction finding. However it doesn’t seem like they were able to solve German Enigma traffic, at least up to late 1942.

    In page 17 of his report he says that during the Stalingrad battle a Soviet 5-figure message was decoded and it contained a signals intelligence report. The report showed that the German units in the area were correctly identified but there was a mistake in their numerical designation. This would imply that the information came from sources other than cryptanalysis since in German messages numbers had to be spelled out.



    Sources: ‘Russian signals intelligence 1941-45’, Intelligence and National Security article: ‘The Soviets and naval enigma: Some comments’, The History of Information Security: A Comprehensive Handbook chapter 17-‘Eavesdroppers of the Kremlin: KGB sigint during the Cold war’, Cryptologiaarticle: ‘Summary Report of the State of the Soviet Military Sigint in November 1942 Noticing ‘ENIGMA’, Cryptologiaarticle: ‘Soviet comint in the Cold war’, ‘Journal of Contemporary History’ article: ‘Spies, Ciphers and 'Zitadelle': Intelligence and the Battle of Kursk, 1943’

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    Site antipodean armour has uploaded the report ‘Centurion Tanks in Korea - Report by Lt J Brown RNZAC March 1952’ (originally found through world of tanks forum user Babui).

    This report deals with the performance of the Centurion tank in the Korean War. What I found interesting are the comments on the Soviet T-34 tank, used by the North Korean forces.

    And now, Sir, a few words for your private ear on the T 34. I assume that the tks given by Joe to Mr. Wu are old models. Even so they were grossly over-rated in press reports in the early days of the KOREAN Camaign. (A well placed HE shell from a 20 pr will lift the turret off). Only about 4 per Sqn have wrls and their armour is of poor quality. The whole tk is of the crudest workmanship, and breaks down with the greatest ease. (In fairness I must add that this may be due to inexperienced CHINESE crew). They would have to be used in mass, RUSSIAN fashion, to be any treat to a well trained, well equipped Army, as they have been proved somewhat inferior to the SHERMAN. A CENTURION will do to them what a TIGER did to the SHERMAN. They got their initial build up as a scapegoat to cover the natural and understandable, fact that the first American tps over here were raw, frightened boys who were also soft from occupational duties in JAPAN. The T 34, I am convinced, should be de-bunked. It is a workable tk, but NOT a wonder tk.

    The Koreans actually had the latest version of the T-34, equipped with the 85mm gun plus these vehicles were built in 1945-46 so they were more reliable than those used in the Eastern front in the 1941-44 period.
    It seems Lieutenant Brown was not a big fan of the T-34. Perhaps the T-34 was not the best tank of WWII?

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  • 12/20/13--00:24: US Chungking embassy message
  • I’ve written a lot about how the M-138-A strip cipher was used (and misused) by the US State Department during WWII.

    Time for a challenge!

    The following message was sent from the US embassy in Chungking, China to Washington in March 1943. It has the signature Vincent, which probably refers to Counselor John Carter Vincent.

    Can YOU decipher it?

    I know the following things about the indicator system. According to the cipher instructions of May 1944 all messages had to use the channel elimination table. The cipher clerk had to select 5 different letters at random and then use the channel elimination table to find out which of the 30 positions in the panel would be empty.

    Although the cipher instructions did not include a sample channel elimination table I think that the version used at the time must have been similar to that used by the US Armed forces in the early parts of WWII:

    The first code groups of the message must be the date (taken from either the Gray or Brown codebook) and then the channel elimination indicator that was repeated at the end. Following these instructions it would mean that XSUEF is a date group and TONZS the channel elimination indicator. Note that TONZS is not repeated at the end but that could be due to the fact that not all the codegroups were intercepted.

    Since I don’t have the previous version of ‘Instructions for cipher device M-138A’ (issued in January 1942) i can’t be sure that channel elimination was used in 1943 by the State Department. Instead they could have been using only the split generatrix system (15 cipher letters from one column and 15 from another).

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  • 12/27/13--07:08: Overview of 2013
  • I think I’ve written some very interesting essays this year. I covered WWII cryptology, wrote about spies and intelligence operations, presented detailed statistics about various aspects of WWII and debunked several WWII myths.

    Let’s have a look at the best essays.

    Codes and ciphers:

    Codes of the Special Operations Executive-SOE: part 1, part 2 and part 3.

    Signals intelligence and the Battle of Stalingrad: part 1 and part 2.

    State Department’s strip cipher: part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.

    Turkish codes

    Soviet codebreakers of WWII: part 1 and part 2.

    British railways code

    Polish diplomatic code: part 1 and part 2.


    The resistance leader ‘King Kong’

    T-34 tank:

    US report on quality of Soviet tanks

    Recurring problems of Soviet tank design


    WWII statistics:

    German AFV production 1939-45

    German AFV losses in the Eastern Front


    WWII Myths:

    The German war economy

    Multitude of German AFV types

    Battle of Kursk

    In writing some of these essays i received help from other people who gave me information and/or documents. I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who’s ever helped me.

    Keep in mind that real research costs money. The files that I’ve uploaded and used in my essays had to be copied from either the US or the UK National archives.

    If you want to help me copy more files you can do so. The tab on the right that says donate works just fine.

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  • 01/06/14--00:36: The end of privacy?
  • In his televised address Edward Snowden said: ‘A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. It will never know what it means to have a private moment to itself, an unrecorded, unanalysed thought

    Now Snowden is a controversial figure. Some consider him to be a patriot, others a traitor. However what he said is true.

    Thanks to the global expansion of computers, internet and mobile phones we are all generating a torrent of communications data that are easy for a third party to intercept and exploit.

    It wasn’t always like this. In the good old days (prior to the late 1990’s) homes usually had one landline and that was it. There were no mobile phones available or if they were only a handful of people used them.

    Same thing with computers. Some had them at home but the word internet had no meaning.

    Government agencies could still spy on people but that was expensive in terms of manpower and resources. Technicians would need to physically ‘tap’ the landline and a person would have to monitor the conversations.

    With computers the problem was similar. Since there was no internet someone had to actually go to the computer and copy the data. Very inefficient and time consuming!

    These simple facts limited the extent of government spying. Scarce resources had to be assigned to important targets, which meant people known to be working for foreign intelligence agencies or terrorist groups.

    All this changed in the 1990’s since we had two important events taking place.

    On the one hand the Cold war ended when the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies collapsed. Overnight Western intelligence agencies lost their no1 target and the justification for all their power and resources.

    In the field of technology computers, mobile phones and the internet became available to a growing part of the population of developed countries. These systems made life easier for everyone but they were insecure and easy to intercept and exploit in mass.

    Moving on to the 2000’s we see that thanks to globalization more and more people around the world were able to use mobile phones and the internet. Obviously large organizations like the NSA have taken advantage of the global use of these products by intercepting most of this traffic, analyzing it and decoding it.

    The advantage is that this can be done automatically by the push of a button. Records of a person’s telephone calls, financial transactions, tax statements, health records etc etc can be found online. In theory they are encrypted with systems that guarantee security. In practice the NSA (and similar organizations) can take advantage of poor implementation and/or various ‘backdoors’.

    The result is that we no longer have any privacy left. Yet is the NSA the only problem? Let’s say that the US government decides to go back to the days when ‘Gentlemen do not read each other's mail’.

    What would change in the world? Probably nothing.

    First of all the NSA and its ally GCHQ are not the only players in town. The Russians, Chinese and Israelis have first rate signal intelligence organizations. Other countries also have similar organizations and they would continue their operations as before.

    If they consider you a target is there something they can’t find out about you? We all have mobile phones. From these they can learn not only who you talk to but also track your daily movements. If they compromise your bank account data and your tax reports they will learn how much money you have. From medical records they can find out if you’re healthy or not. From your computer they can get your email messages and your internet viewing habits etc  etc

    So with the click of a button they can find out everything about you.

    They don’t even have to try hard since you all upload your files and pictures online. Just from Facebook they can get your personal details and your social circle.

    How can you protect yourself? There are technological solutions like TOR and Bitcoin but they have their limitations and if the NSA wants to it can compromise them in various ways.

    Maybe you decide to throw away your cellphone and your computer and never use them again. Good luck with that. I’m sure your employer will give you his blessing.

    Could there be a solution at the state level? An international agreement to respect people’s privacy rights? This is a nice idea but it’s too tempting for one country to break the rules and continue spying/cyberwarfare activities.

    So things will probably continue to get worse in the privacy front.

    In the end perhaps the solution would be to embrace the global panopticon in exchange for the benefits of total surveillance.

    What would those be? In theory if government agencies can track everyone’s movements and communications they can probably solve most crimes.

    I know it’s an extreme idea but at least we’ll get some benefits from government spying.

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    The main event that shocked the world in 1940 was the defeat of the Franco-British Alliance in May ’40. However the Battle of France was not the only military campaign of the year.

    Norway had become a battle ground between German and Allied troops in April ’40, as both sides raced to occupy the country.

    For the Germans securing Norway was important because they wanted to protect their northern flank and ensure that trade with Sweden would not be interrupted. This was very important for their war economy as exports of Swedish iron orehad to travel through Norwegian waters.

    For the Allies landing troops meant that they would open another front close to Germany, sever her ties with Sweden and ultimately push that country towards joining the Franco-British Alliance.

    The Germans were aware of the Allied plans and once they decided to take the initiative they managed to surprise the defending forces by landing their troops in various Norwegian ports. Practically the whole German surface fleet took part in this action.

    The Allies were also planning a military operation and the German landings caught them by surprise. The British fleet attacked the German surface units and landed troops in Norway.

    Hard fighting ensued (especially around Narvik) but in the end the Germans prevailed and they occupied the whole country till the end of the war.

    Did the Germans take advantage of secret intelligence in the Norwegian Campaign? Was that one of the reasons of their success?

    The German Navy’s B-Dienst certainly read the main British naval crypto systems and by the spring of 1940 their work had progressed so far that they were able to read virtually everything of importance in connection with the Norway operation

    However there is another intelligence operation that is not well known. According to file KV 2/3281 in the British national archives, an Abwehr agent named Marina Lee might have played an important role during the fighting in Norway.

    The file says that Marina Lee was born in St Petersburg, worked as a ballet instructor and had acquired Norwegian citizenship through marriage.

    During the fighting in Norway Lee may have managed to infiltrate the Allied headquarters of General Auchinleckand discovered the details of the Allied plans. Using this information the German commander Dietl was able to counter the Allied attack.

    For the rest of the war it seems she worked for the German intelligence station in Madrid.

    What happened to Marina Lee at the end of the war? Unfortunately it seems that it is a mystery. The British believed that she may have offered her services to the Soviet side.

    The case of Marina Lee shows how easily an attractive woman can acquire classified information.

    However it should be noted that the information on her success cannot be verified from other sources. Maybe she played a role in the Norwegian Campaign or maybe the German agent (Finckenstein) who volunteered this information was exaggerating. It’s up to historians to find out more.

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    In the course of WWII the Anglo-Americans were able to gain information of great value from reading their enemies secret communications. In Britain the codebreakers of Bletchley Park solved several enemy systems with the most important ones being the German Enigma and Tunny cipher machines and the Italian C-38m. Codebreaking played a role in the Battle of the Atlantic, the North Africa Campaign and the Normandy invasion.

    In the USA the Army and Navy codebreakers solved many Japanese cryptosystems and used this advantage in battle. The great victory at Midway would probably not have been possible if the Americans had not solved the Japanese Navy’s code.

    These events have gained great publicity and countless books have been published about them. People like Friedmanand Turing are widely known to readers of WWII history.

    While there are countless books on Bletchley Park and the American codebreakers, there are only a handful dealing with the operations of the Axis codebreakers. This would be natural if there wasn’t much to write about. Yet the exact opposite is true. German, Italian, Japanese, Finnish and Hungarian codebreakers were able to exploit many important enemy codes and their successes directly affected important campaigns and battles of the war.

    For example:

    Without the B-Dienst the U-boats would not have been able to locate Allied convoys in the Atlantic.

    Rommel’s successes in N.Africa owed a great deal to the information he received daily from his signals intelligence unit NFAK 621 and the decoded messages of colonel Fellers.

    In the Eastern Front the Germans were able to exploit a large part of the enemy codes, including the systems of the NKVD and  the high level military ones in 1941-42.

    The radio-telephone conversations between Churchill and Roosevelt were decoded and sent to Hitler during the period 1941-44.

    The State Departments high level strip cipher was solved during the period 1942-44.

    The solution of various Allied codes may have compromised operation Overlord.

    British, Polish, Czechand Sovietintelligence communications were decoded by Referat Vauck.

    Italian, Japanese, Finnishand Hungariancodebreakers also had their own successes during the war.

    Why haven’t the Axis codebreakers received the attention they deserve?

    There are probably several reasons. Winners get to write history, so it makes sense that the Allies would not want to publicize their failures. Especially in Britain the successes of Bletchley Park are a source of national pride.

    At the same time there is the issue of reliable sources. Historians need documents and official sources to put in their books. This creates a problem since many of the relevant documents were either destroyed/lost at the end of WWII or they were seized by the Allies and kept under lock and key till recently.

    For example many of the German signal intelligence archives were captured by the Anglo-American at the end of WWII but large parts were destroyed by the Germans. In Japan they mostly destroyed their material before surrendering. The Finnish archives were moved to Sweden in 1944 and sold off to Japanese, Swedish, German and American officials. The Hungarian archives were moved at the end of the war to Eggenfeld, Germany where they were recovered by a TICOM team.

    After the war the surviving participants were understandably weary of talking about their wartime exploits versus Allied codes.

    Different archives, from different organizations, in different languages and with parts missing meant that the information they contained was fragmented. If this was not enough the material seized by the Anglo-Americans has only recently been released to the UK and US national archives.

    All these problems mean that the exploits of the Axis codebreakers have not been fully recognized by historians.

    Still a lot of information has reached mainstream books. It’s interesting to see how different countries have dealt with the failures of their crypto security during WWII.

    Soviet Union/Russia

    As I understand it during Soviet times WWII histories did not mention codebreaking. There were references to ‘radio-electronic combat’ but these dealt only with D/F, traffic analysis and jamming.

    The situation seems to have remained basically the same in Russia. There are some new books that have come out and have more information on Soviet codebreaking operations but the relevant archives are still closed to researchers.

    From what I’ve seen the official line is that Soviet codes were unbreakable.

    United States

    The situation in the US is the exact opposite of Russia. Instead of pretending that their codes were impenetrable they were the first to admit to the most important cases of compromise. The cases of the Bell Labs A-3 speech scrambler, the Fellers messages and the M-209 cipher machine have received attention from historians.

    The cases that haven’t received much attention concern the military strip ciphers M-94 and M-138 and the State Department version.

    However two important cases are virtually unknown to historians. These are the OSS Berne compromise and the IBM Radiotype case.


    Somewhere between Soviet denials and US openness lies the ‘official’ British stance.

    On the one hand the official histories ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War’ are careful not to exaggerate the importance of signals intelligence during the war. Regarding Allied cipher security they accurately describe the most important compromises, especially in N.Africa and in the Atlantic.

    Volume 2 appendix 1 ‘British cypher security during the war’ has a summary of the main British cryptosystems and their exploitation by the Germans. For some reason this information doesn’t seem to be widely known as it is not mentioned in popular history books.

    One of the reasons is probably that there isn’t much analysis of how these British cryptosystems were used during the war,  how secure they were and how much information the Germans got from them.

    In upcoming essays i will look into the cryptographic failures of each of these countries in more detail.

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