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The secrets of SS Automedon

Discussions on all aspects of the Japanese Empire, from the capture of Taiwan until the end of the Second World War.
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The secrets of SS Automedon

Postby Peter H on 31 Mar 2008 10:01

The German raider Atlantis captures SS Automedon,November 1940:


http://www.forcez-survivors.org.uk/automedon.html

After spending a fruitless hour gaining entry into the ships safe, to discover nothing more than….“a few shillings in cash”. A search of the Chart Room, brought far greater rewards:

Our prize was just a long narrow envelope enclosed in a green, bag equipped with brass eyelets to let water in to facilitate its sinking. The bag was marked ‘Highly Confidential…To be destroyed’ and the envelope addressed to The C.in C, Far East…To Be Opened Personally. The documents had been drawn up by no less an authority than the Planning Division of the War Cabinet and contained the latest appreciation of the Military strength of the Empire in the Far East. There were details of Royal Air Force Units; there were details of naval strength; there was an assessment of the role of Australia and New Zealand; and most piquant of all, a long paragraph regarding the possibility of Japan entering the war, a paragraph accompanied by copious notes on the fortifications of Singapore. What the devil were the British about, sending such material by a slow old tub like Automedon, I, puzzled? Surely a warship would have been a worthier repository? We could not understand it”.

Mohr’s skipper, Captain Rogge, (who was fluent in English), soon realised the importance of this intelligence windfall, which also contained….new cipher tables for the fleet, information on minefields and swept channels, maps and charts and British Secret Service reports. Subsequently he quickly transferred the documents onto the recently acquired prize ship ‘Ole Jacob’, wasting little time in ordering Lieutenant Commander Paul Kamenz, and six of his crew to take charge of the vessel. Kamenz supplemented shortfalls in manpower by making use of a large contingent of Norwegians rescued from the Jacob, and another Norwegian merchantman, sank by the Raider a few days earlier and after an uneventful voyage they arrived in Kobe- Japan, on December 4, 1940.

Within an hour of docking the German reporter ‘Herr Kehrmann’ boarded the vessel for the sole purpose of collecting the documents and delivering them to the German Naval Attaché in Tokyo, Admiral Paul Wenneker, who had already been informed of the Raiders haul. Who, on viewing their contents sent a highly detailed four-part cipher telegram to Naval H/Q Berlin. Subsequently on December 6, after making copies of the COS Appreciation, Wenneker entrusted the original documents with a courier, who journeyed by train through Russia (then still neutral) onto Germany. On arrival in Berlin….after scrupulous examination by relevant authorities a copy was sent to Captain Yokai, the Japanese Naval Attaché in Berlin. And on December 12 1940 he completed the Axis circle of distribution, by despatching a summary of contents to the Chief of Third Section, Naval Staff, Tokyo which stated:

From: Naval Attaché in Berlin.

To: Chief, Third Section Naval General Office Tokyo.

12/121630/1940 73900.

I have received from the German Navy the minutes of a meeting of the British Cabinet held on 15 August this year dealing with operations against Japan. The document will be sent by the next courier; meanwhile here are the main points:

1-Although Japan cherished the ambition of Capturing Singapore, the existing situation would not allow Britain to send her fleet to the Far East, and she must defend it by sending Army and Air Force reinforcements.

2. Japan would probably invade French Indo-China of Siam as a first stop, and the Netherlands East Indies and Singapore would follow. However, Britain was not in a position to resort to war in the event of an attack on French Indo-China or Siam.

3-Hong Kong would be abandoned, but would continue resistance as long as possible.

4.-If the operations against the Italians in the Mediterranean should proceed rapidly and successfully, it would be possible to send a fleet to the Far East.

5-Operations must be conducted jointly in the Netherlands East Indies.

6- Since it was probable that the Japanese would occupy Suva in the Fiji (?) Islands as a base, one Brigade must be sent there from New Zealand.

Navy Trans 08-12-45

Top Secret Ultra.

The same evening in Tokyo, Wenneker received permission from Berlin to hand the original report to Japans, Vice Admiral Kondo. An entry in the Attaché’s war diary dated, 1800hrs, December 12, 1940 recalls:

“Kondo repeatedly expressed to me how valuable the information contained in the British War Cabinet memorandum was for his navy. Such a significant weakening of the British Empire could not have been identified from outward appearances”.

Initially, it appears the Japanese were sceptical of the reports contents, believing it to be a German ploy designed to coax them into military action against Britain. However, events from December 27, 1940 up until January 21, 1941 clearly indicate that intelligence material taken from Automedon (in particular the Far Eastern Appreciation) were regarded as authentic and indicative of future British policy regarding the Far East. As on the former date, at a Liaison Conference meeting navy Minister Oikawa Koshiro stated….

According to our intelligence document, it is estimated that Britain would not go to war as long as Japan confines itself into advancing into French Indo-China, but war would become inevitable if Japan should advance into the Dutch East Indies”.

From this meeting onwards the Japanese adopted an expansionist attitude towards southern Indo-China, subsequently we can assume the captured COS Appreciation must have greatly contributed towards this move. Further evidence that the Automedon incident was influential in this policy was evident on January 21, 1941. when Captain Yamaguchi Bunjiro (head of 5th intelligence section - dealing with the USA) and Captain Horiuchi Shigetada (head of 8th intelligence section – dealing with Britain & India). Offered an intelligence report to appropriate parties within the Japanese General Staff. One issue dealt with Indo-China, on which the officers advised their commanders:

“Even if Japan sends forces into Indo-China, Britain will not go to war”
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Re: The secrets of SS Automedon

Postby Peter H on 31 Mar 2008 10:05

Eiji Seki's book on the subject:

Image


http://www.japantoday.com/news/jp/e/too ... ook&id=319

Germany's sinking of SS Automedon
Mrs Ferguson's Tea-Set, Japan and the Second World War

By Eiji Seki

Review by Richard P Greenfield

If “Mrs Ferguson’s Tea-Set” were a movie, it would open with a long tracking shot of a British steamer in the Indian Ocean. The music would be triumphalist (think Dvorak with a South Seas backbeat) as we track the steamer’s slow and stately progress. And then, the appearance of another ship, which would usually be the cause of celebration, turns to alarm (think the theme from “Jaws”) as it closes on an intercept course and opens fire.

If this book were a novel, it would be a thriller: top-secret defense plans are placed by harried government officials on a civilian ship transiting a war zone. The only protection those documents have is that they are stored in a concealed location. The ship is then captured by the enemy, and just before it’s to be sunk, one of the detained passengers requests that her tea set (of all things) be retrieved by the enemy crew, which obliges her — and in so doing discovers the secret documents.

Not many filmmakers or novelists could pull it off. But this story is not fiction. The ship was an actual British liner, the SS Automedon, intercepted and sunk near Sumatra by the German surface raider Atlantis while carrying, among other papers, the British defense plans for Singapore.

The Atlantis was, in fact, a commercial ship that was later outfitted for war with cannons, torpedo tubes and a fire control system, among other things. It was a later version of what in World War I the British called a “Q” ship, a fighting craft disguised as a civilian vessel. The British had used theirs, often very successfully, against U-boats during the Great War.

In truth, much more damage was done to merchant shipping and warships by U-boats than by all surface vessels combined. Nevertheless, the Atlantis and several sister ships managed to cause considerable havoc. The Atlantis itself destroyed or captured 22 merchant ships before being hunted down and sunk by the British cruiser HMS Devonshire.

Writer Eiji Seki turns on all this material, some of it by inference and some by real detective work. For example, the fate of the passengers and crew of the Automedon and other ships captured by the Atlantis is a tale in itself. Some were interned in Germany, while others escaped from a prison train and made it over the mountains to Spain. Amazingly, after the war, Mrs Ferguson’s famous tea set was discovered, intact in one of the few warehouses in Hamburg that was not destroyed or damaged — and was returned, yet again, to its owner.

The real question that Seki is after, though, is not the fate of the survivors (or even the tea set), though he provides updates. The real question is how Japan’s best and brightest were unable to see beyond the plans’ promise (an easy strike south to Singapore) to the peril that resulted from their use (a resurgent Allied command force) and whether or not there is any possibility, as has been alleged, that the plans were planted — that the Automedon was put in harm’s way precisely to bait a trap.

Yet the number of improbabilities and coincidences strains belief in this theory. The Automedon very nearly avoided interception by Atlantis; a small alteration in its course would have put the steamer beyond the area that the German raider was willing to risk. And then there is the tea set, of course. If Captain Bernhard Rogge had not had that archaic chivalric impulse, he would certainly not have ordered his crew back aboard a ship he was about to sink to retrieve personal items for one of his captives.

But he did. The plans were discovered and handed over to the Japanese government.

There was indeed a trap — but not a Byzantine machination set up by British intelligence. It was the trap of accepting the promise of an easy, low-cost victory with no long-term consequences. It was the trap of looking at facts that fit with preconceived ideas and not asking anything beyond. It happened before, and has certainly, and sorrowfully, happened many times since.
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Re: The secrets of SS Automedon

Postby Michael Emrys on 01 Apr 2008 02:40

Thank you, Peter. That is a most remarkable find. Whoever had the responsibility for destroying those documents and failed to do so certainly committed a blunder that cost thousands of additional lives above whatever the cost would have been when Japan decided to go to war anyway. This must have fitted in with their plans very neatly.

Michael
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Re: The secrets of SS Automedon

Postby Fatboy Coxy on 08 Nov 2010 23:00

The British may have found out about the Japanese having knowledge of the Cos Far East Appreciation, see this thread

IJN plans revealed 1941?

viewtopic.php?f=65&t=159777

Edit to correct thread link

Steve
Last edited by Fatboy Coxy on 09 Nov 2010 21:35, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The secrets of SS Automedon

Postby Fatboy Coxy on 09 Nov 2010 21:34

A copy of the CoS Far East Appreciation, Aug 1940 can be found at the link below

http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-3Doc-a4.html

I'm not sure if its complete, because the end at the bottom of the page doesn't conclude as might be expected.

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Re: The secrets of SS Automedon

Postby Fatboy Coxy on 06 Dec 2010 21:07

Another interesting article on the SS Automedon can be found here

http://cgi.ebay.com.sg/1940-MALAYA-KGVI ... 0644203235

This article suggests it was on the orders of Air Chief Marshall, Sir Cyril Newall of the Chiefs of Staff that the full copy of the August 1940 COS Far Eastern Appreciation be sent on the SS Automedon, sailing on September 24, 1940 This was destined for the attention of the CinC Far East, Air Chief Marshall Sir Robert Brooke Popham.

Interestingly Newall was replaced as CAS, having lost the support of Winston Churchill, in late October 1940, with Charles Portal taking his place. He was only 54 years old, so clearly it was a capability/confidence issue for Churchill. A year later he was given the job as Governor-General of New Zealand, effectively his career was over. I wonder if the SS Automedom had some part in that, accepting it was captured on 11th November 1940, after he left office.

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Re: The secrets of SS Automedon

Postby Tim Smith on 09 Dec 2010 16:42

Fatboy Coxy wrote:Another interesting article on the SS Automedon can be found here

http://cgi.ebay.com.sg/1940-MALAYA-KGVI ... 0644203235

This article suggests it was on the orders of Air Chief Marshall, Sir Cyril Newall of the Chiefs of Staff that the full copy of the August 1940 COS Far Eastern Appreciation be sent on the SS Automedon, sailing on September 24, 1940 This was destined for the attention of the CinC Far East, Air Chief Marshall Sir Robert Brooke Popham.

Interestingly Newall was replaced as CAS, having lost the support of Winston Churchill, in late October 1940, with Charles Portal taking his place. He was only 54 years old, so clearly it was a capability/confidence issue for Churchill. A year later he was given the job as Governor-General of New Zealand, effectively his career was over. I wonder if the SS Automedom had some part in that, accepting it was captured on 11th November 1940, after he left office.

Steve


SS Automedon was captured after Newall left office, but the ship left Britain BEFORE he left office - so the responsibility for the papers being on the ship was Newall's.
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Re: The secrets of SS Automedon

Postby Fatboy Coxy on 09 Dec 2010 18:03

[quote="Tim SmithSS Automedon was captured after Newall left office, but the ship left Britain BEFORE he left office - so the responsibility for the papers being on the ship was Newall's.[/quote]

Its a good example of his poor judgement, and helps illustrate why Churchill had him removed, but I think I'd be wrong in thinking the lost papers had any part to play. I don't know when the British realised the Japanese had them, I would suspect much later in the war, and only being confirmed after the war.

Wikipedia has an article on him here
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyril_Newa ... ron_Newall

I wonder as to how much of the failings of the pre war RAF preparation can be laid at his door, but maybe thats for another thread.

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Re: The secrets of SS Automedon

Postby USS ALASKA on 10 Apr 2011 17:28

Sirs, sorry to drag up an old thread.

Other information on this topic can be had in The German Raider Atlantis by Captain Bernhard Rogge. His account as Captain of Atlantis is limited to his involvement with the capture and dispatch of the information.

http://www.amazon.com/German-Raider-Atl ... 07&sr=1-15

An in-depth analysis of the items and what they meant to the different sides (German and Japanese) can be found in an appendix of Reluctant Allies: German-Japanese Naval Relations in World War II by Yoichi Hirama, Berthold J. Sander-Nagashima, Axel Niestle, and Hans-Joachim Krug.

http://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Allies- ... 424&sr=1-1

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Re: The secrets of SS Automedon

Postby Fatboy Coxy on 23 May 2011 16:46

Hi USS ALASKA

USS ALASKA wrote:Sirs, sorry to drag up an old thread.

Cheers


Don't be sorry, this is a much under explored fact, proberbly because it was a allied disaster and not an axis one. History is always kind to the victors. The capture of the appreciation was of a similar value to the British capture of the U559 Enigma machine and the codebooks with all current settings for the U-boat Enigma key.

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Re: The secrets of SS Automedon

Postby Graham B on 07 Jan 2013 02:24

Another detailed account of the Automedon incident and its secret cargo is in Michael Arnold's The Sacrifice of Singapore: Churchill's Biggest Blunder. Arnold is an insurace salesman, not historian, and somewhat of a conspiracy theorist, but he's done his research nonetheless and I found his book a good read. He devotes one chapter (about 15 pages) to the Automedon incident and mentions it throughout (the book is a bit repititive).
Personally, I don't think that a single document would have had the impact on Japan's strategic planning that some claim, but we can all only guess.
Other than the nzetc reference above, does anyone have a reference for the original COS Appreciation that was lost, or the minutes of the British Cabinet meeting on 15 August 1940 that apparently discussed the appreciation? Those would be greatly appreciated.

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