Why was Axis intelligence less reliable than Allied Intel?

Discussions on High Command, strategy and the Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) in general.
Leros87
Member
Posts: 67
Joined: 17 Apr 2016 00:35
Location: Kent

Re: Why was Axis intelligence less reliable than Allied Intel?

Post by Leros87 » 11 Aug 2020 14:43

I believe that Jock Haswell in his 1973 book "British military Intelligence" noted the following about Enigma:

It is well known that the Poles had led the effort in cracking this system, which the Germans relied upon to safeguard all their military and political communications, through their capture of an intact machine early in the invasion of Poland and its subsequent removal to France. Poles within the French signals interception service continued this work after Poland fell, though with little French participation. In Great Britain similar work was initially carried out by the Admiralty, which had created a signals interception section during the First World War; however, after that War the Admiralty’s refusal to grasp the nature and value of such intelligence meant that the work of this section existed in a vacuum - there were no systematic procedures for processing, evaluating and distributing the information gleaned from code breaking. The Admiralty section was transferred to the Foreign Office and re-named The Government Code and Cypher School. This School was moved out of London to Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, to be joined by the three services own Sections, on the outbreak of War and where a growing number of intellectuals were gathered under the administration of MI6. Its efforts to break Enigma reached its peak in the spring of 1940 and was conducted along three lines - firstly, the intercepted signals were intensively studied for clues, the Luftwaffe being the most helpful; secondly, using the Polish technical achievements they developed their own data processor to handle the huge amount of possible cipher computations; thirdly, rigorous rules were established for the methodical recording and analysis of all traffic such as pattern, call signs and mistakes. An integral part of this work was establishing a secure method of distributing the intelligence gained to the appropriate staffs and commanders. It was this concentration of mechanical sophistication, intellectual ability and financial backing that allowed the British to take the lead, though a working communications was established with their French allies. In early April 1940 the first real signals were deciphered, though as Enigma came in several varieties due to the needs of its user not all could be quickly read (the Naval variant remained unbroken until 1941). When the blitzkrieg broke in May 1940 some groups of deciphered signals had already started the process of accurately reading the enemy’s mind, however the collating and disseminating of this intelligence was still not geared to the needs of the Armed Forces. Within a short space of time the RAF and Army intelligence services were encouraged to provide German speaking intelligence officers to provide both a direct link between the two levels and additional manpower to improve output. At this time distribution of the intelligence could be both simple and secure - to the Prime Minister, Chiefs of Staff, the Directors of Intelligence in the three services, Fighter Command and Commander in Chief Home Forces.

To provide secure distribution overseas a number of Special Liaison Units (SLU) were organised and located at field headquarters, each consisting a specially picked officer and a small section of cipher clerks and signallers. A Unit had served with both GHQ BEF and the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force and used a cipher system not dissimilar to Enigma (though this was never broken by the enemy). Here, then, was at least the skeleton of a complete intelligence system: a source of information and an organisation for processing and disseminating it. The code name “Ultra” was assigned to this system, which did not include the Royal Navy at this time, whose own Section left Bletchley Park for the Admiralty in London; the main reason for this move was the lack of German naval signals being broken, while a wide range of existing intelligence gathering facilities were able to provide a better service through the Navy’s efficient Operational Intelligence Centre.

Although the tempo of blitzkrieg operations demonstrated Ultra’s shortcomings many lessons were learnt, in particular the need to have a deciphering system that was swift and continuous. Although the French service managed to evacuate to Algiers (it moved back to Vichy France in October 1940) communication was covertly maintained with the British through the Poles still attached to the French. It was a major failure of Germany’s own intelligence services that even with the fall of France they remained unaware that Enigma was being progressively infiltrated.

June 1940, therefore, found Ultra intact but still striving for maturity. At the start of the Battle of Britain in July a SLU was formed at Fighter Command’s headquarters to ensure a more efficient method of communication. The information it provided was mainly used to endorse or disprove existing intelligence gathering methods but did also provide an insight into the Luftwaffe’s strategy, order of battle and daily operational orders. As the German Army was more secure in its Enigma use and tended to use land lines rather than radio, Ultra intelligence relied on the Luftwaffe to provide information on invasion preparations, for example the parachute forces available, trials of new equipment and tactics to support landings and timings related to Luftwaffe operations in England after an invasion. This ability to listen in on its enemy during its preparations was of immense value; indeed, by September the British had managed to piece together with considerable accuracy the pattern of events likely to follow the invasion. However, Ultra could not on its own provide information on when or where this invasion would come, at least not until the time that hopefully such orders would be sent out through Enigma, the Luftwaffe signals intercepted, decoded, assessed and then passed on - even then, it would probably be a matter of hours before the event occurred. The importance of Ultra at this time, particularly for the Army, was its ability to monitor most of the German preparations as they evolved and provide guidance on how operations after S Day was expected to be carried out.

In my own mind the failure of the German security services to recognise the vulnerability of Enigma coupled with continuing failure to grasp the opportunities to break in to Allied security apparatus (fall of France and the dissolution of Vichy France to name but two) were catastrophic. Could it be the mentality of the senior commanders and leaders that their side was far superior trumped common sense?

User avatar
wm
Member
Posts: 6381
Joined: 29 Dec 2006 20:11
Location: Poland

Re: Why was Axis intelligence less reliable than Allied Intel?

Post by wm » 11 Aug 2020 15:56

I'm not so sure that the Poles captured "an intact machine early in the invasion."
The fact is they had access to the civilian version of Enigma, and the German traitor Hans-Thilo Schmidt sold them some of its secrets too.

Although nothing about the Enigma was that secret - its modus operandi had been known since at least 14th century.
That was the genius of the Enigma; you could have the machine, fully understand its operation, and still (theoretically), you wouldn't be able to decipher its messages.

AllenM
Member
Posts: 92
Joined: 18 Sep 2018 04:01
Location: USA

Re: Why was Axis intelligence less reliable than Allied Intel?

Post by AllenM » 11 Aug 2020 17:23

I would ask that no one accuse me of anything without evidence. Assumptions are bad. Intelligence operations based on assumptions would never work. I know how all of the Allies and the Russians, who I consider to be only Allies Of Convenience, handled intelligence and intelligence gathering. Their intelligence teams were effective but adversarial toward their wartime Allies. It was a simple matter of whoever got there first got the scientist, equipment, documents, etc. I have extensive knowledge of how the Soviets 'recruited' people.

Again, I cannot overemphasize the need for end-of-war secrecy. US Intelligence did not trust the Russians during the war and began cracking Russian codes in January 1943. The Secret Sentry by Matthew Aid, page 3.

How can anyone here assume anything about alleged German "failures"? Prior to declassification in 2009, certain aspects did not have the level of detail necessary to draw any reasonable conclusion. I think I should draw attention to the fact that it was not until the fall of the Soviet Union that US documents began to be declassified. The Deutsches Museum received some documents about the German wartime atomic project and put a select few on exhibit in 2001. This would not have been possible if the Soviet Union was still around.

Again, I ask, what was Allen Dulles, a New York attorney, doing in neutral Bern, Switzerland during the war? Who did he report to? Why was he chosen to head the reconstituted OSS as the CIA after the war? There is no credible account of OSS operations during the war. I will quote part of an interview with the wartime operational head of the OSS, William "Wild Bill" Donovan: "Can you describe what you did during the war?" 'We killed people and blew up things.' That is only a third of the story.

And what about "America's Secret Army," the Counter-Intelligence Corps? They have a mostly unpublished history that runs to 3,000 printed pages. It can be viewed in person but it has not been transcribed. Only a few books have been published about their activities to date. I would describe them as thugs in some cases. The back cover dust jacket of one book shows a photo of one of them in one of Hitler's personal cars with a white American star spray painted on the side.

If anyone wants to know about Polish involvement with the Enigma, and their 'Bomba,' I suggest: Chiffriermaschinen und Entzifferungsgeräte im Zweiten Weltkrieg by Michael Pröse.

And why the focus on the Enigma? There were other methods to deliver secret messages. Look up the one-time pad.

steve248
Member
Posts: 3277
Joined: 10 Aug 2003 20:53
Location: Hertfordshire, England

Re: Why was Axis intelligence less reliable than Allied Intel?

Post by steve248 » 11 Aug 2020 20:35

Allen, unfortunately Dulles was a US citizen and working for an "organization" of the US government while stationed in Switzerland. A US government was paying him a salary and expenses. It is not likely there will be much about such a man in any European archive, with the exception of the Swiss. They may have something worthwhile researching. But any decent information would have to come out of US National Archives.

One of the major problems about book titles and book cover illustrations is that publishers usually choose them. The more lurid the title and illustration the more people will pick up the book. It is purely marketing strategy. Hence, never judge a book by its cover.

British intelligence was always aware of the dangers inherent with Soviets - "Dealing with the Devil", a book by Dold O'Sullivan (2010) is especially about Anglo-Soviet intelligence in WW2 and how Britain dropped Soviet agents (usually communists of German and French nationality) by parachute into Germany and France. And others in Italy. It did not bode well for the Soviets as these "Pickaxe agents" were mainly arrested and murdered. British intelligence after the war went to great lengths to establish this, not wanting Soviet agents still in the business of now spying on them.

As regards Polish involvement in Enigma - the Bletchley Park files declassified to UK National Archives readily show how this happened. The word Enigma is an all encompassing word that includes all the decoded material whether it came via Enigma units, the various other transmitting unit and even manual morse code transmissions using Double Playfair. Don't get hung up on it. As regards one-time-pads (OTPs) the British Foreign Office used them for their diplomatic radio transmissions: the OTP is used on some, less important en clair. Obviously OTPs decided against by operators in their Funkwagens who could just type the message into the Enigma machine and coded on transmission.

I am aware of the Ian Sayer (and Doug Botting?) book on the Counter Intelligence Corps. Long out of print and might even going through another paperback reprint in the future.

AllenM
Member
Posts: 92
Joined: 18 Sep 2018 04:01
Location: USA

Re: Why was Axis intelligence less reliable than Allied Intel?

Post by AllenM » 11 Aug 2020 20:59

I am a book publishing professional. I understand the value of picking titles, and, when used, the most compelling photo or piece of art. Books are sold based on their covers but this is less true about certain subjects with a very small audience, relative to the mass market.

I know Allen Dulles' background and the law firm he worked for. I was just looking to see if anyone here knew anything. Again, an obscure subject, compared to other 'popular interest' books related to World War II.

I will add an observation about the perspective taken by some here regarding German intelligence. Perhaps a few here think that Nazi attitudes clouded the thinking of those in charge. General Douglas MacArthur refused to accept certain intelligence information during the Korean War. His replacement could not provide a definitive reason and ascribed it to his 'personality.' Other mistakes regarding intelligence were made during the Vietnam War. So, I add this to show that mistakes happen but who wants to see such mistakes in print? Aside, of course, from a limited, outside of the mainstream, group of readers. I understand the psychology of what sells. If a non-specialist picked up a book like The Secret Sentry, they would immediately put it back.

Enigma is an all-encompassing word? Interesting. According to a German language book I have, there were a number of German cypher machines. The Reichsbahn had their own version of the Enigma. I am not hung up on anything. I have what I believe is a fairly complete list and description of relevant German equipment. As new machines appeared, and when others were modified/upgraded, the Allies experienced problems.

So was Axis intelligence less reliable? In general, no one knows. Since the full picture is lacking. Reliable means accurate and doing the 'best work under the circumstances.' Otherwise, people in charge get replaced. Which did happen with Luftwaffe signals.

User avatar
Thumpalumpacus
Member
Posts: 156
Joined: 05 Feb 2016 10:09
Location: Hill Country, Tejas

Re: Why was Axis intelligence less reliable than Allied Intel?

Post by Thumpalumpacus » 12 Aug 2020 02:28

The Allies mounted at least one active operation to grab a machine. Did the Axis stage a similar operation? Were they as concerned I guess is my question. The post above about "the fish rotting from the head" is apt here, I think. If I'm wrong, be gentle!

steve248
Member
Posts: 3277
Joined: 10 Aug 2003 20:53
Location: Hertfordshire, England

Re: Why was Axis intelligence less reliable than Allied Intel?

Post by steve248 » 12 Aug 2020 10:08

Allen, perhaps you should be looking at the Counter Intelligence War Room (CIWR) "Liquidation" (meaning Final) and Situation reports on various Departments of RSHA VI and their evaluation of Schellenberg as Amtschef. These were compiled from the arrest interrogations of RSHA VI officials plus whatever documents they had to hand.
CIWR was based in London and staffed by British, US and French intelligence officials. You can find their reports at NARA as well UK National Archive.
They were unimpressed with Schellenberg as an intelligence chief; RSHA VI bit off more than it could chew when it absorbed the Abwehr; because so few RSHA VI officers had any experience of travelling in foreign countries and many of the desk officers posted into gaps in the organization; they had no agents in Britain (other than those supplying false information and run by MI 5); no agents in the USA; Abwehr radio transmissions from Spain and Portugal were regularly intercepted by Bletchley Park even were taken over by RSHA VI; the Unternehmen Zeppelin run by RSHA VI CZ had their radio transmissions intercepted by Bletchley Park (over 1000 messages) and I found more, intercepted by the Russians, at the Stasi Archive in Berlin.
Unfortunately the two RSHA VI figures who did seem to have inkling on how to oversee intelligence operations were Martin Sandberger and Eugen Steimle. Unfortunately because both had served in the killing squads in Russia and prosecuted in Case 9 (the Einsatzgruppen Trial) at Nuremberg and given hefty prison sentences.
I am not interested in the mechanics of how radio transmissions were sent, intercepted and decyphered - I am only interested in its end product, the messages.
Some of us on the forum have also published our work. You are not alone.

Return to “German Strategy & General German Military Discussion”