The RB-50G and Project Half Track

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Boeing RB-50G Superfortress
343rd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Yokota Airbase, Japan, July 1953

This rendering is dedicated to the memory of Capt. John Roche, USAF who passed recently.
Captain Roche was the only survivor of the shootdown of this aircraft on the day after the Korean War armistice was signed. The aircraft was operating in international airspace near Vladivostok in the Soviet far east when it was attacked and shot down by MiG-15s. The entire crew, save for Capt. Roche (the copilot) died in the crash, or were drowned afterward.
Capt. Roche survived, and carried on the memories of his fallen crew-members in strict secrecy until the events surrounding the shootdown were declassified in the 1990s.

Electronic reconnaissance was the primary mission of the RB-50G which entered SAC service between June and October 1951. Fifteen RB-50G conversions were made and differed significantly enough from the RB-50E and F that they were assigned the Boeing Model 345-30-025 number. The RB-50G featured six electronic countermeasures stations internally, with external modifications to accommodate the radomes and antennae of the aircraft’s new radar equipment. During the reconfiguration process, RB-50G was fitted with the improved nose of the B-50D, which had a large moulded plastic cone and an optically-flat bomb-aiming window in the lower portion. In contrast to the RB-50F, the RG-50G could use its defensive armament while operating its new electronic equipment.

The normal crew complement was sixteen: pilot, copilot, navigator, engineer, nose gunner, top gunner, left side gunner, right side gunner/radio operator, radar operator, tail gunner, plus six electronic countermeasures operators. Ten cameras could be carried – four K-38s with 36-inch lens, or two K-38s with 24-inch lens; one L-22A or K-17; one A-6 motion picture camera; three K-17cs; one T-11 with 6-inch lens.

The 7499th Group was engaged in supporting the new Matador and Mace tactical guided missiles in Europe. The 7405th and 7406th Squadrons each flew a special kind of airborne collection mission – not traditional photo collection, and it certainly wasn’t signals intelligence. It was imagery of a special sort, designed to support a tactical missile guidance system called the Automatic Terrain Recognition and Navigation (ATRAN) system, and the time frame was 1955-56.

In the early 1950s, the Air Force had fielded two versions of the Matador which depended upon positive guidance control by radar-directed ground controllers. The maximum range was about 200 miles, and they would be very susceptible to enemy countermeasures. So ATRAN was to be employed in the TM-61B version to correct those problems. The TM-61B was to evolve into the TM-76A Mace missile with a much-improved performance; this ATRAN-equipped Mace version was to stay in the Air Force inventory in Europe until September 1966.

The difficulty was how to get the required ground imagery to create the matching film. The main area of employment of these missiles was to be Western Europe, so collection would be in that arena. The hope was that reconnaissance missions and other intelligence sources would provide enough accurate data to be created and uploaded into the missiles. Headquarters US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) at Wiesbaden, Germany, activated the Support Group at Wiesbaden in mid-1955. The 7499th Group would run its ATRAN missions under the project name ‘Project Dream Boat’. Two squadrons would have the ATRAN task among others. The 7405th Support Squadron would collect ATRAN material using a Douglas C-54D under Project ‘Lulu Belle’ – the 7406th Support Squadron would use three Boeing RB-50Ds and a RB-50G under Project ‘Half Track’.

Each of these aircraft would use specialised radar scope imagery, coupled with simultaneous regular photography, to get the required information. Each was limited to flying its missions over friendly territory, but this would enable the best possible accuracy for that part of a missile’s flight path from launch until crossing into hostile territory.

The C-54 would be a very logical choice for ATRAN missions covering terrain underneath and near the air corridors to Berlin. Aircraft flying in the corridors were usually required to land at Tempelhof and would be subject to Soviet observation and probable complaints if they were perceived to be other than transport aircraft. Thus the RB-50s were disqualified on this ground as well being too large for the Tempelhof runways. Available photographs of the project C-54 show few protuberances to draw suspicion to it. The RB-50 might have been the best available choice for the missions over Western Europe because it could carry a heavier load of special equipment.

The RB-50D aircraft to be used in the Project Half Track part of ATRAN would seem an unlikely choice for low level intelligence gathering missions. Flying the huge modified bombers out of Rhein Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany, were crews of the 7406th Support Squadron which was activated in May 1955 and was to have two missions, both with RB-50s. One would be communications intelligence collection, with the RB-50G version, and the other was to be ATRAN route collection, with three RB-50Ds. The ATRAN aircraft were modified by Goodyear at Akron, Ohio, before being assigned to the 7406th. Problems at Goodyear delayed the arrival of the three aircraft (serial numbers 48-107, 49-307, and 49-312) until spring 1956. Finally all three were available, and the first ATRAN mission was flown 1 June 1956.

The 7406th Support Squadron memoirs describe the missions: “The Half Track RB-50D aircraft had two pilots, two navigators, a flight engineer, a radio operator, two scanners/gunners, and a tail gunner… The “Half-Track” back-end crew consisted of two persons that were not members of the 7406th. These two sat in the scanner/gunner compartment, aft of the bomb bays, during take off and landings. During missions these two sat on a platform in the forward bomb bay…Low level flights commencing from points in Western Germany were flown to the East German border’. They would fly as ‘…straight a line as possible from middle Germany to the East/West German border at 500ft and 1000ft absolute altitude, and pull up at the border. At times an aircraft would return to Rhein/Main with tree limbs wrapped around the aircraft tail skid’.

The 7406th flew about seven Half Track missions per week at first. Between July and September 1956, 52 more missions were flown. But then came the word that on 19 October 1956 the squadron was to be relieved of the Half Track ATRAN mission. Like the Lulu Belle C-54, the Half Track RB-50s were judged not able to produce the quality information needed. ‘The equipment on the aircraft was not able to do the mission within specified tolerances. The same job would be done by synthetic methods.’

 

 

Midway: “A Victory of Intelligence”

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After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Navy cryptographers, with assistance from both British cryptographers at the Far East Combined Bureau (in Hong Kong, later Singapore, later Ceylon), and Dutch cryptographers (in the Dutch East Indies), combined to break enough JN-25 traffic to provide useful intelligence reports and assessments regarding Japanese force disposition and intentions in early 1942. Rochefort would often go for days without emerging from his bunker, where he and his staff spent 12 hours a day, or even longer, working to decode Japanese radio traffic. He often wore slippers and a bathrobe with his khaki uniform and sometimes went days without bathing.

While  Joe Rochefort and his team were busy tracking the enemy’s advance toward Australia from decrypted fragments, he also began detecting Yamamoto’s Midway-Aleutians operation. Of special help was a decrypt of April 29 referring to the dispatch of maps of the Aleutian Islands. Another signal dealing with the “forthcoming campaign” used the words koryaku butai—”invasion force”—aimed at a destination encoded as AF. Rochefort and Layton informed Nimitz that something big was heading toward Hawaii.

In hindsight, it can be seen that Yamamoto’s plans were flawed in the extreme. In setting the three objectives of taking the atoll, establishing control in the Aleutians and luring what was left of the U.S. Pacific Fleet out into the open sea, he was violating the principle of massing his strength. He thought of the Aleutian campaign as a useful feint, a clever deception, as well as a needed blunting of that northern scimitar hanging over the Japanese mainland. Instead it resulted in a ruinous division of his ships and carriers.

Cockiness made him sloppy. He allowed two other carriers to be left behind in home waters—one to be repaired after the Coral Sea battles, the other merely to receive a new complement of planes and pilots—when a determined effort could have added both to his fleet. In addition, when his huge force sailed toward Midway, he placed his four carriers forward in a close grouping that proved terribly convenient for U.S. attack planes. And instead of covering these all-important carriers with his battleships, he had the war vessels, including his flagship, Yamato, lag far behind, a floating headquarters remote from the action.

Most damaging of all was his attempt to use the same deceptive tactics at Midway that had worked for him at Pearl Harbor. Again he used fake radio traffic to create the illusion that his ships were in training operations near Japan. This time, thanks to the delay in introducing the new JN-25 code, Rochefort and his team were not to be fooled.

The intelligence supplied in the Coral Sea battles had confirmed for Nimitz that he could trust his codebreakers. When they began submitting evidence of a massive new Japanese thrust aimed at Midway, he sided with them against the view held by Washington analysts, as well as Washington chief Admiral Ernest J. King, that Rochefort was being duped. The Washington unit believed any move toward Midway was only a feint masking Yamamoto’s real objective: the aircraft factories of Southern California. The U.S. Navy even dispatched a fleet, Admiral Morison has reminded us, to search for a Japanese carrier falsely reported to be descending on San Francisco.

Further, the Washington intelligence staff advised King that Halsey and his carriers should be kept in the Coral Sea, since the Yamamoto offensive might be directed there rather than toward Midway.

Rochefort was not subtle in disparaging these interpretations. Regarding an attack on the U.S. West Coast, he knew the Japanese lacked sufficient transports, tankers and food refrigeration ships to take on so remote an objective. Also, he judged it “ridiculous” and “stupid” to think they would strike so far east while the U.S. Navy ships at Pearl remained on their flank.

As for leaving carriers in the Coral Sea, MacArthur’s codebreaking teams in Melbourne came to Rochefort’s support. Their decrypts verified that the Japanese had abandoned amphibious operations against Port Moresby and were planning an overland offensive instead. Halsey’s carriers could head for Pearl Harbor and Midway.

In his recorded oral reminiscences, Rochefort stated, “Possibly the best thing that ever happened to the Navy during the war was Nimitz’s acceptance of Station Hypo’s estimate of what the Japanese were going to do, not only at Coral Sea but at Midway and subsequent.”

Even with Nimitz’s approval, though, one big question remained. Where was “AF”? Rochefort had worked with the Imperial Navy’s geographical bi-letter designations enough to know that AH was Hawaii and AK was Pearl Harbor. He was sure that references to AF in the intercepts stood for Midway, but none of the decodes made the identification certain. How could he make sure?

Lieutenant Commander Jasper Holmes knew that the Midway command depended on a plant that distilled seawater to supply the garrison’s water needs. What if Midway sent out, both in plaintext and in a low-level code the Japanese were sure to read, that the desalinization plant had broken down and the island’s supply of water was running desperately short? If AF was Midway, surely some mention of this crisis would show up in subsequent traffic.

The scheme was carried out, with the extra fillip of an answering plaintext transmission from Hawaii that a freshwater barge would be sent at once.

The deception worked. As Holmes reported, “The Japanese took the bait like hungry barracudas.” AF’s water troubles turned up in a decrypt, establishing beyond doubt that Midway was the target. Historian David M. Kennedy has called this resourceful stroke by Rochefort’s team “the single most valuable intelligence contribution of the entire Pacific war.” Its upstaging of the bigwigs in Washington, however, exacerbated their ill feelings toward Rochefort.

The ruse convinced Nimitz, who had already reinforced the defenses at Midway. He began preparing his David role against the Yamamoto Goliath, pitting twenty-seven surface warships against the enemy’s eighty-eight. On May 25, Nimitz held a staff meeting that Rochefort had been ordered to attend. A punctual man, the admiral was annoyed when his chief cryptana-lyst showed up a half hour late. But when Nimitz saw what Rochefort had brought with him, all was quickly forgiven. Rochefort and his colleagues had spent the night decoding a long intercept. It revealed nothing less than the complete Japanese order of battle for the Midway attack. Plus, the intercept confirmed that the attack was scheduled not for mid-June, as Washington was claiming, but for June 3 or 4.

On May 28, the Japanese did switch to a new version of their JN-25 code, blacking out the Allied codebreakers for a time. But the changeover came too late. The Americans knew all they needed in order to take on the Japanese fleet.

Unlike the overconfident Yamamoto, Nimitz hastened to amass every element of naval strength he could muster. Although not an aviator himself, he understood the importance of naval air power. On the afternoon of May 27, the battered carrier Yorktown limped from the Coral Sea into Pearl Harbor. If it could be patched up in time, it would add a third carrier to Nimitz’s fleet. Given the extent of its damage, the repairs could easily have consumed a couple of months, perhaps even a trip to the West Coast. Instead, crews swarmed over the vessel and on the morning of May 29 had it ready to put to sea, at least marginally battle worthy.

Nimitz received what seemed a serious setback to his plans when Bull Halsey arrived at Pearl with a skin disease that sent him to the hospital instead of aboard a flagship. Postmortems of the battle, though, suggest that in reality this was a felicitous change. The impulsive Halsey might not have fared as well in the complex operation as his cool, clear-thinking replacement.

This was Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, who in his service under Halsey had shown himself to be an aggressive fighting man and a shrewd strategist. He would command one of Nimitz’s task forces, with Jack Fletcher in charge of the other. Knowing from the Hypo codebreakers that the Aleutian operation was only a diversion, Nimitz sent northward a motley assortment of ships under Rear Admiral Robert A. Theobald.

On June 1, Yamamoto planned to place two picket lines of submarines between Pearl Harbor and Midway. The subs would be stationed there primarily to alert him if the U.S. fleet emerged in response to his surprise attack on the atoll. The operation was badly coordinated, and the subs were late in getting into position, but even if they had been on time they would not have detected the American ships; they had already passed the barrier.

For the previous month the defenses of the Midway atoll had been reinforced by inflows of antiboat and antiaircraft guns, two additional companies of GIs, five tanks, ten torpedo boats, stores of aircraft gasoline and a variety of planes that included B-17 Flying Fortresses. Midway was as ready as Nimitz could make it.

He proceeded to set his sea trap. His two task forces met at “Point Lucky,” 325 miles northeast of Midway, a position that was expected to place them on Yamamoto’s left flank. The three carriers would lie in wait, undetected, while long-range search planes from Midway sought out the Japanese fleet. Then every type of air power the U.S. could marshal, both from Midway and the carriers, would fall on the Japanese ships.

In Washington, suspicions still lingered that Nimitz and Rochefort were being gulled by a Japanese force that was only a decoy. Consequently, they were greatly relieved when on June 3 a flying boat from Midway spotted the invasion fleet almost exactly where Rochefort had predicted it would be. The Spruance and Fletcher task forces, along with the defenders at Midway, knew for certain what they must do.

At this point Yamamoto’s plan began to show its flaws. His battleships, with their powerful eighteen-inch guns, could have pulverized Midway’s defenses, but they were three hundred miles away. The softening up was left to Pearl Harbor’s hero, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, commanding the invasion fleet that included the mission’s four carriers. At dawn on June 4, Nagumo sent off nine squadrons of bombers escorted by four squadrons of Zero fighters. Their arrival at Midway was expected to be a surprise. Instead, the planes were met by heavy antiaircraft fire and a fierce swarm of game but outmoded and outclassed fighters.

Nagumo’s Zeros shot down most of the U.S. planes. Overall, however, the initial resistance put up by Midway’s defenders seemed to the Japanese leader of the raid too strong to permit a landing of troops. He radioed back to his commander that a second attack wave was needed.

That was not what Nagumo wanted to hear. His ordnance men were already arming aircraft with torpedoes and armor-piercing bombs, preparing to dispatch any Allied warships that might show up, especially the U.S. carriers that Yamamoto hoped to lure toward Midway. A second attack on the island meant canceling that order and equipping his planes with fragmentation bombs for a land bombardment. The necessity for the change, however, seemed to be confirmed by the arrival of a fleet of torpedo bombers from Midway. Even though antiaircraft fire and the Zero fighters massacred the obsolete U.S. planes, their attack verified that the defenders of Midway were far from neutralized. Nagumo sent off a second wave against the island.

While those planes were in the air, he received dumbfounding news: one of his reconnaissance planes had discovered American warships in the area. At first the spotter saw only cruisers and destroyers. Then he reported a carrier. He also warned that more torpedo planes were winging Nagumo’s way. How should he counter this incredible new development? After dithering for a precious quarter of an hour, Nagumo ordered that the returning planes be armed with the original torpedoes and bombs to be used against surface ships.

At that moment of maximum confusion and vulnerability, when the Japanese carrier decks were cluttered with torpedoes, bombs, gasoline hoses and aircraft, came what Gordon Prange in his monumental Miracle at Midway called the Americans’ “uncoordinated coordinated” attack.

Spruance and Fletcher had planned for flights of torpedo planes, dive-bombers and fighters to converge simultaneously over the Japanese fleet, while Flying Fortresses from Midway dropped their bombs from great heights. But Nagumo had changed course, and the American planes had trouble finding his ships. The fighters, running out of fuel, turned back, many of them having to ditch. The torpedo planes, first to discover the Japanese, courageously swept in at low levels. The complete flight was shot to pieces by the Zeros, with only one of the thirty crewmen surviving. They were lost without scoring a hit. The Flying Forts were equally ineffective, managing nothing better than near misses.

The sacrifice of the torpedo planes, though, was not in vain. While the Zeros were occupied with them down near sea level, thirty-seven American dive-bombers from Enterprise arrived far overhead. They had traced their way to Nagumo’s fleet only because their commander, Clarence Wade Mc-Clusky, had cannily let himself be guided by a Japanese destroyer returning after a try at sinking a pesky U.S. submarine. When McClusky and his mates went into their screaming dives, the huge rising suns painted on the flight decks as aids to Japanese fliers gave the Americans perfect targets. McClusky’s crew wrecked the Akagi and the Kaga. A second flight of  dive-bombers, from Yorktown, arrived almost simultaneously and concentrated on Soryu.

In less than five minutes the opportunity that had been slipping away from the Americans was turned into a flaming victory. Three of the four carriers were reduced to blazing hulks and later sank. As historian Keegan put it, “Between 10:25 and 10:30, the whole course of the war in the Pacific had been reversed.” George Marshall called it “the closest squeak and the greatest victory.”

The battle was not quite over. The Yorktown, only partially restored from her Coral Sea mauling, was further crippled by a flight of Japanese dive-bombers from the remaining carrier and was finished off by a submarine, which also sank a destroyer. Bombers from Enterprise exacted quick revenge. Her planes caught up with the retreating occupation force and sank the fourth carrier. Also, one cruiser was sunk and a second badly damaged.

Yamamoto still had a vast superiority in sea power, but with the only other two carriers of his fleet protecting the Aleutian landings, he knew he was defeated. He called off the Midway operation and sneaked back to home waters.

The one part of Yamamoto’s overly complex plan that succeeded was his diversionary raid against the Aleutians. Ironically, his small victory there came about because Theobald, the American commander, refused to believe what his cryptographic team told him. Their decrypts warned that while the Japanese would bomb the American base at Dutch Harbor, they would land troops to seize Attu and Kiska. Theobald would not be swayed from believing the invasion would be against Dutch Harbor, and he positioned his ships accordingly. When Yamamoto’s attackers did exactly what the decoders had forecast, Theobald’s task force was in the wrong place by a thousand miles. It failed to prevent the Attu and Kiska landings.

Otherwise, the great surge of Japanese expansion was over. After Midway, despite a few abortive efforts to mount new drives, the war machine of the Rising Sun was put on the defensive.

“Midway was essentially a victory of intelligence,” Nimitz later wrote. George Marshall added that as a result of cryptanalysis, “we were able to concentrate our limited forces to meet their naval advance on Midway when otherwise we almost certainly would have been some 3,000 miles out of place.”

At a postbattle staff conference at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz singled out Joe Rochefort: “This office deserves a major share of the credit for the victory at Midway.”

One result of the battle nearly caused disaster for the codebreakers. Along with accounts in the American press exulting over the Midway victory was a sidebar story that caused U.S. cryptographic teams consternation and dismay. The story’s headline was NAVY HAD WORD OF JAP PLAN TO STRIKE AT SEA. Appearing in three large dailies owned by Roosevelt-hating Colonel Robert McCormick, the story related that navy commanders knew in advance about Japanese plans, the strength of their forces and the fact that a move against “another base” was only a feint. The gaffe could have cost the Americans their entire intelligence advantage over the Japanese. Investigations found that a reporter aboard American ships in the Pacific had been allowed to see U.S. intelligence summaries and had, with remarkable insensitivity, filed his account, to which equally obtuse censors had given approval. Whether because of this break or as the result of their natural precautions about cryptographic security, the Japanese did make changes in their codes that Allied codebreakers had difficulty in overcoming.

Tapping the Hot Line

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Geheimschreiber

Back on September 7, 1941, Leningrad had been under direct German fire for three days. The famous siege of nine hundred days was about to commence. Immediately to the east, at a place called Shlisselburg, troops of the Soviet NKVD desperately resisted advance elements of the German Sixteenth Army. Three hundred aircraft of the German Luftwaffe swept in to strafe the holdouts, and by nightfall the city on the shores of Lake Ladoga was engulfed in flames.

Far to the south, but also on the eastern front, panzer chieftain Heinz Guderian had turned his tank columns in a drive across the Russian rear in the Ukraine. He soon would meet another German pincer sweep and close the vast encirclement of Kiev. At the center of the eastern front another huge haul of prisoners and territory was in prospect for the German Army Group Center driving toward Vyazma.

A world in such tumult paid little attention to a radio-telephone call late that day from still-peaceable Washington, D.C., to London. In that innocuous pulsing across the Atlantic—also the scene of raging war—a newly arrived British official merely asked his superiors in London to provide him an assistant.

Innocuous as the call may have seemed, the German enemy heard, recorded and understood the conversation—no matter that it was “scrambled.” The occasion, in fact, was a red-letter day for a certain set of German eavesdroppers—this was their first intercept of many on the very same transatlantic “line” that Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt would be using throughout the war to discuss Allied strategy, tactics, and policy.

If the Allies had their super-secret ULTRA code-breaking operation as an ear to Nazi Germany’s pulse, the Germans, as an intelligence coup of their own, had solved the Allied “scramble” device and could listen in when the two heads of state, or their many functionaries, picked up the scramble phone on either side of the Atlantic.

So secret was ULTRA that only the highest Allied officials and the most select intelligence personnel knew about it. So secret, likewise, was the German radio-telephone intercept that military intelligence was left out of the game almost entirely. Hitler and his closest Nazi Party coterie kept this one pretty much to themselves.

And they could thank the man equivalent to America’s postmaster general for the coup, rather than Germany’s professional spies.

Ladislas Farago told the story of Reich’s Post Minister Wilhelm Ohnesorge’s contribution to the German war effort in the 1971 book, The Game of the Foxes. The tale actually begins in 1939, when a German agent in New York noticed a story in the New York Times that was headlined: “Roosevelt Protected in Talks to Envoys by Radio ‘Scrambling’ to Foil Spies Abroad.”

Roosevelt’s scrambler was located in a soundproof room in the basement of the White House. Later in the war, Churchill would do his conversing from a scramble instrument located in his underground War Cabinet Rooms in London. For the moment, though, America was still a neutral party, and FDR’s first use of the scramble phone had been to hear about the unprovoked German invasion of Poland on September 1 from his ambassador in Paris, William C. Bullitt.

Developed by Bell Telephone, the A-3 scramble device would break up the frequency band and scatter the voice impulses at one end, all to be sorted out by a descrambler at the other end of the radio-telephone link. From the White House, FDR’s conversation was piped into an AT&T security room in New York for the transatlantic transmission in unintelligible form.

The German spy in New York dutifully forwarded his clipping from the Times, but in Germany there was no immediate or significant reaction within the intelligence community. Still, the Allied “hot line” did interest one expert outside normal German intelligence circles—Wilhelm Ohnesorge.

As Reichs post minister, Ohnesorge was in charge not only of Germany’s postal system, but also its telephone and telegraph network. He was just the man to focus upon the ballyhooed radio-telephone “scramble” link between England and America, which he did without delay. His laboratories and engineers set to work entirely lacking in visible evidence of the highly secret Bell apparatus—no blueprints, models, or the like. But, beginning his work in 1940, Ohnesorge’s chief research engineer, Kurt Vetterlein, had developed experimental models of both the scrambling and descrambling devices by September 1941. The first interception was of the British official’s call to London from Washington late on September 7, even as Leningrad came under siege.

Keeping their experimental work secret, Ohnesorge and Vetterlein soon perfected their intercept system. They built a monitoring station on the coast of occupied Holland, complete with directional antennas to pick up the radio signals from nearby England. By March 1942, they were ready to begin their intercepts on a regular basis.

At this early stage of the war—for America, especially—FDR and Churchill had a great many military secrets to talk about. The Normandy invasion was still two years away; the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa was still months in the future, and for both Allies, the war in the Pacific against Germany’s Axis partner Japan still appeared an unmitigated disaster.

As David Kahn further explained in his 1978 book, Hitler’s Spies, wartime developments gradually encroached upon the listening unit’s original location in a onetime youth hostel on the Dutch coast. Commando raids on coastal radar stations prompted the Germans to move their Forschungsstelle, or “research post,” to Valkenswaard in southeastern Holland. “Here a compact brick-and-concrete bunker, in the shape of an L, was built for it in the woods….” wrote Kahn. “The men worked in areas guarded by inch-thick steel doors, cooked in their own kitchen, slept in rooms with dormer windows, and relaxed in a living room with a fireplace.”

By the fall of 1944, after the Normandy invasion, the exigencies of war forced the Germans to relocate again—this time as distantly from England as Bavaria. “But here the distance from the [England-based] transmitter considerably impaired its results.”

The original, early war locale, of course, had been the best for Engineer Vetterlein’s operation. That spot, two hundred yards from the sea, “could pick up both the ground wave of the transmitter in England and the back lob of its beam toward America.” Vetterlein’s equipment included single sideband receivers, filters, modulators, switching equipment, tape recorders, timers and, for the intercepts themselves, two rhombic antennas. The latter took in the Allied signals in their scrambled form, but with the supporting equipment, Vetterlein and his men would find the Allied chitchat “instantaneously disentangled by the apparatus, and tape-recorded in the clear.”

As Kahn also noted, Vetterlein did not exactly begin his work from a point zero. His Deutsche Reichspost agency had owned an A-3 device allowing radiotelephone communication with the United States. The trick for Vetterlein and his crowd was to descramble, even if they understood the operating principles.

Thus, they first attacked the problem using American transmissions intercepted near occupied Bordeaux, France. They “attacked the problem with oscilloscopes and spectrographs, filters and patience. By the end of 1940, they had reconstructed the A-3’s secret parameters—the widths of the subbands, their division points, their inversions, and their intersubstitutions, which changed thirty-six times every twelve minutes.”

The painstaking work led eventually to the equipment that would descramble the overheard conversations “as they were being spoken,” although it did take months—until fall of 1941—to effectively intercept and descramble the cross-Atlantic messages. Later, when the intelligence operation was in full swing, the Germans monitored the hot line around the clock, with thirty to sixty calls to choose from every day.

Churchill and his counterpart in Washington would not discuss everything by radio-telephone, to be sure. They did have their wartime conferences; they communicated by other means, and they had many subordinates shuttling back and forth. Many of those subordinates, however, both military and diplomatic, would be using the scramble phone too.

Unknown to any of the Allied principals, the German monitoring station first located in Holland produced an intelligence bonanza from the start. “Its equipment was so efficient,” wrote Farago in his book, “that the intercepted conversations could be ‘deciphered’ instantaneously, losing only a few syllables after each key change (which occurred at intervals of twenty seconds) until the proper key was found automatically. The German transcripts were sent to Berlin on a G-Schreiber, a classified teletype that had its own scrambler system. The entire operation, from the interception to the arrival of its transcript in Berlin, usually required only a couple of hours. It was probably the fastest means of intelligence procurement in secret service history.”

Reichs Post Minister Ohnesorge waited until the intercept system was working perfectly before informing Hitler of the great success. On March 6, 1942, he wrote the Führer to report that his was the only agency in the Third Reich “that succeeded in rendering conversations that had been made unintelligible, intelligible again at the instant of reception.”

As a direct result, among other helpful intelligence gleanings, the Germans in July of 1943 were able to confirm that the Italian government, having deposed Mussolini, was seeking an armistice with the Allies.

Various signs had pointed toward the wavering of the Italian ally, but Hitler and his close advisors were unsure what to expect. When Marshal Pietro Badoglio’s new government took over on July 25, confusion reigned in Nazi Germany’s highest councils.

On July 29, however, Post Minister Ohnesorge’s latest intercept, delivered in a sealed envelope marked with a big U, settled the controversy—and resulted in Hitler’s next fateful decision. At 1 A.M. that day, Churchill and Roosevelt had talked on their scramble phone about the tumultuous events in Italy. They had discussed the possibility of an impending armistice with the new government.

Since there had been no official peace-feeler by the Badoglio regime, they might have been premature in anticipating such a move just then. And they apparently did speak in a conditional sense, even if their expectations were made quite clear.

Whatever the tone of the conversation, it was enough for the eavesdropping Germans. They saw it as hard evidence that armistice negotiations were under way.

As a result, Hitler’s uncertainty was ended. He immediately ordered the occupation of Italy, and soon twenty German divisions stood in the Allied pathway up the Italian boot, instead of the mere eight that were stationed there before the telephone intercept. The Allies would spend the rest of the war subduing the German forces in Italy—at horrendous cost to both sides.

While the Deutsche Reichpost had more than proved the value of its listening post in Holland, Germany’s military forces were not often to share in the intelligence harvest that resulted. “This was a Nazi triumph, and it was to remain a Nazi operation,” wrote Farago. “Distribution of the intercepts was strictly limited. A single copy of the original transcript was sent to Heinrich Himmler to be distributed at his discretion. The [military] Abwehr was bypassed, as were the intelligence departments of the Army, Navy, and Luftwaffe.”

After SS Chief Himmler’s scrutiny of the incoming intercepts, the “choicest” were sent on to Hitler. A few went to Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, but he apparently was discouraged by the fact that the Allied speakers on the radio-telephone were often guarded even in their scrambled conversations. “Owing to the fact that these conversations are camouflaged,” he once complained, “there is very little one can learn from them.”

Wiser members of the Third Reich’s ruling circles were, of course, more impressed. The Himmler protégé Walter Schellenberg, who had vaulted to head of all German espionage by 1944, recognized an obvious “bull’s-eye” when the Holland intercept picked up an FDR-Churchill conversation on May 5, 1944, about an Allied buildup in England. There, straight from “the horse’s mouth,” was confirmation that the invasion of France was imminent. And when it did take place, just a month later, it wasn’t the Deutsche Reichspost’s fault that Germany was unable to stop it. Germany’s postmaster general and his engineers had done their job—what could be done about the information they provided was another matter altogether.

Jewish Palestine Early WWII

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The Italian bombing by SM82 bombers of Mandatory Palestine in World War II was part of an effort by the Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) to strike at the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations throughout the Middle East.

On September 9 the European war reached Tel Aviv when Italian aircraft bombed the city killing 107 Jews. Yitzhak Rabin was returning home from the sea when the bombs exploded less than half a mile in front of him. He was horrified by the carnage, which he was to recall vividly while on a visit to London more than fifty years later.

Early in November 1940 two ships, the Milos and the Pacific, reached Haifa port with 1,771 ‘illegal’ immigrants on board. The High Commissioner, Sir Harold MacMichael, refused to allow them to land, and they were transferred to a French ocean liner, the Patria, which the British had specially chartered in order to deport them to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. On November 20, while the immigrants were still being transferred to the Patria, MacMichael broadcast a blunt communiqué setting out the new deportation policy. The British government, he declared, ‘can only regard a revival of illegal Jewish immigration at the present juncture as likely to affect the local situation most adversely, and to prove a serious menace to British interests in the Middle East. They have accordingly decided that the passengers shall not be permitted to land in Palestine but shall be deported to a British colony and shall be detained there for the duration of the war.’ The ‘ultimate disposal’ of the deportees, MacMichael added, ‘will be a matter for consideration at the end of the war, but it is not proposed that they shall remain in the colony to which they are sent or that they should go to Palestine. Similar action will be taken in the case of any further parties who may succeed in reaching Palestine with a view to illegal entry’.

On November 24, while the Patria was still at anchor o Haifa, another immigration ship, the Atlantic, with 1,783 refugees on board, was escorted into Haifa Bay by the Royal Navy. On the following morning as the first 200 of those ‘illegals’ were being transferred to the Patria, explosives, planted by the Haganah to immobilize the ship and halt the deportation, blew up more forcefully than intended, and within fifteen minutes the Patria had sunk, drowning more than 250 refugees.

Not knowing what their fate would be, the survivors of the Patria explosion, and the illegals on board the Atlantic, were taken ashore.

The scale of the Patria tragedy led the British government to announce that, whereas the remaining 1,600 refugees on board the Atlantic would still be deported to Mauritius, the 1,900 refugees who had been on the Patria when it sank would be allowed to remain in Palestine. This decision led to an immediate protest from the British Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East, General Wavell, who telegraphed to the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, on November 30: ‘Have just heard the decision re Patria immigrants. Most sincerely trust you will use all possible influence to have decision reversed. From military point of view it is disastrous. It will be spread all over Arab world that Jews have again successfully challenged decision of British government and that policy of White Paper is being reversed. This will gravely increase prospect of widespread disorders in Palestine necessitating increased military commitments, will greatly enhance influence of Mufti, will rouse mistrust of us in Syria and increase anti-British propaganda and fifth column activities in Egypt. It will again be spread abroad that only violence pays in dealing with British.’

The reply to General Wavell came, not from the War Office or the Colonial Office, but from Churchill himself, who telegraphed to the General on December 2: ‘Secretary of State has shown me your telegram about Patria. Cabinet feel that, in view of the suffering of these immigrants, and perils to which they had been subjected through the sinking of their ship, it would be necessary on compassionate grounds not to subject them again immediately to the hazards of the sea. Personally, I hold it would be an act of inhumanity unworthy of British name to force them to re-embark. On the other hand Cabinet agreed that future consignments of illegal immigrants should be sent to Mauritius provided that tolerable conditions can be arranged for them there.’

Churchill’s telegram continued, ‘I wonder whether the effect on the Arab world will be as bad as you suggest. If their attachment to our cause is so slender as to be determined by a mere act of charity of this kind it is clear that our policy of conciliating them has not borne much fruit so far. What I think would influence them much more would be any kind of British military success.’

Churchill’s telegram was decisive, and Wavell’s protest was overruled. The Patria deportees were allowed to remain in Palestine, first in the internment camp at Athlit then, within a year, at liberty. Nor was Churchill’s judgement at fault, for on December 14 a military intelligence report on the effect of the Patria decision on the Arabs concluded that it had been ‘remarkably small’.

The aftermath of this episode proved, however, a blow to the Zionists, for on December 26 the British government suspended the quota for legal immigration for three months, thus halting all immigration until March 1941. This decision was reached despite Churchill’s insistence only two days before that the government, as he minuted, ‘have also to consider their promises to the Zionists, and to be guided by general considerations of humanity towards those fleeing from the cruellest forms of persecution’. Having received this clear indication of Churchill’s attitude, the Permanent U nder Secretary of State, Sir John Shuckburgh, minuted, that same day, in deciding not to inform Churchill of the suspension of the quota, ‘Our object is to keep the business as far as possible on the normal administrative plane and outside the realms of Cabinet policy and so forth.’ Subsequently, the quota for April to September 1941 was also suspended, and no immigration certificates issued for that period either.

As the war continued, the Zionists were appalled by the mounting campaign of terror against the Jews of Poland, and by the continuing refusal of the British government to modify in any way the immigration or land purchase restrictions of the 1939 White Paper. In February 1940, in a book entitled The Jewish War Front, Jabotinsky argued that the Jews were also an integral part of the Allied war effort and, with copious and disturbing quotations, showed that the terrible Jewish sufferings in Poland, although played down in the British press, were well known to all those who read the news agency telegrams, and thus to all those responsible for government policy. The Jews, Jabotinsky argued, must now work towards full statehood; and he added, ‘The Jewish State is a true and proper war aim. Without it, the ulcer that poisons Europe’s trouble cannot be healed: for without it there can be no adequate emigration of the millions whose old homes are irretrievably condemned; without it there can be no equality; and without this no peace.’

Jabotinsky died a few months later, in the United States, at the age of sixty. Not since the death of Herzl thirty-six years earlier was there such a sense of loss in the Jewish world, even among Zionists for whom Jabotinsky’s Revisionism had been too extreme. His fund-raising activities in the United States in 1921, his prewar plan to evacuate one and a half million Jews from Poland to Palestine, his support for Jewish military units in both world wars, his writing and his oratory, marked him out as one of the giants of the Zionist movement. But the bitterness created by the Revisionist split and policies meant that when the State of Israel was established, eight years after Jabotinsky’s death, Ben-Gurion refused to allow his body to be reinterred in Israel. It was not until 1964 after Ben-Gurion’s retirement from politics that this decision was reversed. Today Jabotinsky’s remains are buried in Jerusalem, in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl.

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Soldiers of the Jewish Brigade during WWII

Jewish soldiers from Palestine had a part to play in the Middle East in the British war effort. For the military operation against the Vichy French forces in Syria, the British made use of specially trained Haganah ‘shock troops’ (Plugot Mahatz), known by their Hebrew initials as Palmach. One of those recruited by the Haganah to serve in the Palmach was Yitzhak Rabin, who was then with a group of Labour youth at a kibbutz north of Haifa, training to establish a new kibbutz. ‘At the end of May 1941,’ he wrote in his memoirs, ‘there were rumours that German units had reached Lebanon, with the knowledge and consent of the Vichy government, and the long-awaited order arrived. By dusk the next day, I was in kibbutz Hanita, on the Lebanese border, together with about twenty equally puzzled but eager young men. In the kibbutz reading room we were met by a group of top-echelon Haganah leaders, including Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Sadeh and Yaakov Dori.’

Rabin’s account continued:

Dori was the first to address us and told of the forthcoming British invasion of Greater Syria, including Lebanon, to prevent Axis forces from using the area as a spring-board for invading Palestine simultaneously from the north and south. In response to a British request, the Haganah had decided to co-operate in the campaign, and that is why we had been brought to the border area. I was elated: at last I was about to take part in a battle on a global scale.

In truth, that fantasy was a gross exaggeration. We were divided up into two- and three-man sections and began foot patrols along the border until early June. Then my unit was informed that our task was to cross the border in advance of the Australian forces and cut the telephone lines to prevent the Vichy French from rushing reinforcements to the area…

At nightfall we crossed into Lebanon. The route to our objective and back was about fifty kilometres—to be covered on foot, of course.

As I was the youngest, I was given the job of climbing up the telephone pole. We had only received our climbing irons that day and hadn’t had time to practise. Unable to use the irons, I took o my boots (which was the way I usually climbed), and shinned up the pole and cut the first wire, only to nd that the pole was held upright by the tension of the wires. The pole swayed, and I found myself on the ground. But for lack of choice, up again I climbed, cut the wire, made my way down and repeated the operation on the second pole. Our mission completed, we buried the pieces of wire and made our way back to Hanita by a short cut, covering the distance quickly.

The story of the Haganah’s participation in the invasion of Syria, Rabin re ected, ‘might never have been remembered, even as a footnote to history, had it not been for the fact that on that same night, in a clash with a Vichy French force, Moshe Dayan lost his eye’. There was also a tragedy for the new Jewish force, when a commando unit of twenty-three men was sent by sea to attack the oil refineries in the Lebanese port of Tripoli. They set off in high spirits, and were never seen again.

As war came even to the borders of Palestine, the Jewish Agency continued to establish new settlements. In 1941 a group of youngsters from Germany set up kibbutz Yavneh, equidistant from the Arab towns of Yibnah and Isdud. A religious group, their kibbutz was to become the centre of the religious kibbutz movement. That same year the Haganah conducted a two-month training course for officers in the Carmel mountains.

In opposition to the Haganah, the Irgun believed that it must continue to ght the British in Palestine, and try to seize power. Avraham Stern, who had formed a breakaway ‘Irgun in Israel’ movement (also known as the Stern Gang), tried to make contact with Fascist Italy in the hope that, if Mussolini were to conquer the Middle East, he would allow a Jewish State to be set up in Palestine. When Mussolini’s troops were defeated in North Africa, Stern tried to make contact with Nazi Germany, hoping to sign a pact with Hitler which would lead to a Jewish State once Hitler had defeated Britain. After two members of Stern’s group had killed the Tel Aviv police chief and two of his officers, Stern himself was caught and killed. His followers continued on their path of terror.

David Ben-Gurion, returning to Palestine having spent a year in Britain and the United States, asked Arthur Ruppin to prepare material for a postwar Allied peace conference on Palestine. ‘I hope that you will show that there is a way of bringing five million Jews to Palestine,’ Ben-Gurion told him.

During 1941, as the German army was advancing through the Western Desert towards Egypt, prewar immigrants from Germany founded a kibbutz in the Negev, ten miles east of Gaza. The idea was to have a number of such settlements that might serve as a Jewish presence, should the British be forced to withdraw from Palestine. The name of the settlement, Dorot (Generations), was composed from the initials of the Labour leader and pioneer aviator Dov Hos, his wife Rivkah and their daughter Tirzah, who had all been killed the previous year in a road accident.

The V-Weapons-British Code-Crackers I

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A note dropped through a private door in Oslo barely two weeks after the Second World War led to one of the most remarkable documents of the war – the Oslo Report. The note was sent to Captain (later Rear Admiral) Hector Boyes, Britain’s naval attaché in Norway. Its message was brief: if Britain wanted inside knowledge on Hitler’s secret scientific and technical plans, the BBC should alter the opening words of its German broadcasts.

The BBC wording was altered and the attaché received a seven-page document containing such remarkable material that the three government ministries responsible for the armed services – the War Office, Admiralty and Air Ministry – turned it down. Enemy propaganda was the general view of its contents. The three Services did not even bother to keep their copies. But one man who received it when it arrived in London was Professor RV Jones, the Air Ministry Assistant Director of Intelligence (Science). He kept his copy.

According to the Oslo Report, among different technical developments in which Germany was engaged was a remote-controlled, engine-less glider, code number FZ21 – Ferngesteuerte Zielflugzeug (remote-controlled target-aircraft) – and a pilotless aircraft, code number FZ10. The document added: ‘The testing range is at Peenemünde, at the mouth of the Peene, near Wolgast, near Greifswald.’ This was the first time that Peenemünde had been brought to the attention of Britain’s scientific and intelligence communities. And it would be more than four years before British experts found that this was the V1 or ‘doodlebug’ that was to rain down on London. Also known as the Fieseler Fi 103, it used a simple pulse jet engine, and an autopilot to regulate height and speed. It was two Enigma decrypts of September 1943 that finally convinced Professor Jones that the enemy was constructing two special weapons, later known as the V1 and the V2. Of such importance were these developments viewed in London that a special committee – codenamed Operation Crossbow – was set up to investigate it.

The Germans had been working on these special weapons long before the war. Experiments had been conducted as far back as 1932 at the Army experimental range at Kummersdorf West, about seventeen miles south of Berlin. The first launch tests in the Baltic, on the small island of Greifswald Oie, north of the island of Usedom, in the Peenemünde area, were in December 1937. It rose to sixty miles vertically and went at a maximum speed of 3,600 mph and hit its target at between 2,200 and 2,500 mph. A number of rockets were designed (codenamed A1 – A5), with A4 becoming the V2 – the ‘A’ standing for ‘Aggregat’, meaning ‘unit’ or ‘series’. The ‘V’ originally stood for Versuchsmuster (experimental type), but eventually became ‘Vergeltungswaffe’ or ‘reprisal weapon’. Trial launches commenced at Peenemünde in June 1942. Hitler had made a speech on secret weapons in September 1939, and went hot and cold on the project, sometimes sceptical, and finally enthusiastic. He eventually saw the V-weapons as a means of reversing the tide of war, hopefully enabling him to snatch victory from the jaws of impending defeat. In 1942 the project was revived and became known as FZG76 (Flakzielgerät or anti-aircraft target apparatus), which subsequently took the name V1. In January 1943, an RAF PRU – Photo Reconnaissance Unit – in a flight over Peenemünde confirmed that extensive construction was taking place. At the same time intelligence was coming in of a German capability of hitting Britain with the V1 from sites in France. Eventually a major launch site was discovered by PRU at Watten, near St Omer in the Pas de Calais, at Wissant and Bruneval, near Fécamp.

It was carelessness by Luftwaffe signals operators, using their operational Brown cipher, which gave away the V1 plots from the Baltic which provided height, speed, range and reliability of the V1 so accurately that Professor Jones was able to predict with absolute precision that forty per cent would reach the London area. Brown, which, after the invasion of Russia had declined in importance, began to come back into its own in 1944 with its bearing on V-weapon activities. The main transmitting stations were on the Baltic coast and were often inaudible to the English intercept stations. However, Wick in Scotland, which was fitted with a suitable rhombic aerial, could intercept the main frequency and further cover was provided by another Scottish outstation at Montrose. A German Army Netz – a W/T network system – dealing with V2 experiments and passing Corncrake – Bletchley Park’s codename for this traffic – was also difficult to cover, and although it was double banked at the War Office Y Group station at Beaumanor in Leicestershire and Chicksands in Bedfordshire, required between nine and twelve wireless sets, and the problem of intercepting clean texts on this group was never solved. But Baltic Brown had assumed such importance by the middle of 1944, that experimental, but unsuccessful interception, was made at every available intercept station. Eventually the problem was overcome by sending a group of Chicksands operators to Malmö in neutral Sweden where, as part of the British Consul staff, they successfully intercepted the main group and a previously only suspected medium frequency group.

It was known that the most experienced German radar operators were in the 14th and 15th Companies of the Air Signals Experimental Regiment, and Hut 3 and the Y stations kept a special watch on any movement by these units. It helped that the Germans, when they test-fired the V-weapons, sent the reports between outstations and the base at Peenemünde in a home-made code so simple it could be read on sight. In October 1943 it was discovered that the radar detachments of one regiment – the LN Versuchsregiment – were plotting the trial flights of a new missile in a simple substitution code on the same frequencies as Brown Enigma. Then two W/T networks were discovered operating exclusively on secret weapons. The first was a radar-plotting network service based at Peenemünde, discovered because a special piece of radar equipment known as a Würzburg D had been sent to the LN Versuchsregiment at Peenemünde.

The second were the radar plotting stations themselves. This second network was a link between Peenemünde, the practice ground in Poland and an administrative HQ. After Peenemünde was bombed, a training station to practise firing the rockets was set up at an SS camp, Heidelager, at Blizna in Poland. This location was found once the names of the principal Commands involved in rocket production were known. When the rockets went operational a new group of W/T stations were found, codenamed Vera. This traffic accompanied the firing of rockets and summarised it at the end of the day. Moreover, much of the early and detailed information on the V-weapons were found through decrypts from Japanese diplomatic – mainly naval attaché – traffic.

Prisoner-of-war interrogations and MI6 reports were also adding to the picture. Churchill became involved and, as a result, a special investigation was ordered, of which the chairman was Duncan Sandys, Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, and which went under the codename Bodyline. In November 1943 it was renamed Crossbow, with responsibility being transferred from the Sandys Committee to the Air Ministry. On the night of 17–18 August 1943, an RAF raid on Peenemünde, called Operation Hydra, caused severe damage, aided by a diversionary raid on Berlin, codename Operation Whitebait. Professor Jones, commenting on the information on which this raid had been carried out, said: ‘there had been almost no contribution from Ultra’. But he made clear the importance of Ultra when he added:

I always looked at such actions from this standpoint because, vital though Enigma was, it could at any time have been cut off, and if we had become too dependant on it, we should have been at an enormous disadvantaged.

A different view of that day – seen at ground level – comes from artillery specialist General Walter Dornberger, then Director of the Peenemünde establishment, who had been involved in rocket experiments since 1932. He recalled that he had received a warning from the Air Ministry a few days before that we were likely to be raided. At least one copy of all production schemes, drawings and files had been lodged elsewhere and dispersal of the different departments was under way. In addition, all possible air raid precautions had been taken.

The raid must have been a terrific one. Our carefully laid scheme, covering all eventualities and several times rehearsed, had failed completely.

However, Enigma did provide Professor Jones with vital information when a decrypt revealed a Luftwaffe instruction to personnel at research and experimental stations addressed to establishments in what appeared to be an order of precedence, starting with Rechlin, the roughly German equivalent of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Peenemünde was second on the list, ahead of several other establishments already known to British Intelligence. Jones said this Enigma information enabled him to provide independent evidence of the importance of Peenemünde. The 8th USAAF also carried out raids against the site in July and August 1944. Another decrypt alsoproved useful when, in September 1944, a message was intercepted which asked for Flak ground protection for ‘Flak Zielgerät 76’ and referred to the capture of an enemy agent, adding that the Allies were aware that the weapon would shortly be operational and planned to attack sites before this happened.

Following these attacks on Peenemünde, the Germans subsequently moved much of the work to an underground Volkswagen factory near Nordhausen in the Harz Mountains, to Traunsee, near Salzburg in Austria, and to Blizna, near Debica, in Poland. Other subsequent large sites included Watten, Wizernes, Siracourt and Lottinghem in northern France and Sottevast and Martinvast in the Cherbourg region of Normandy. Another northern French site was at Mimoyecques, but it was the V3 being produced here, known as the Hochdruckpumpe or HDP (high pressure pump), which was a supergun. Further information was obtained by the codebreakers when decrypts of the reports to Tokyo by the Japanese Ambassador in Berlin at the end of September referred to long-range weapons.

Bletchley Park, as part of their role in looking out for these weapons, had been keeping track of the 14th and 15th Companies of the Luftwaffe Signals Experiment Regiment, which had come to the attention of the codebreakers early in the war because of their involvement in the development of navigational beams which guided bombers to their target during the Battle of Britain. Professor Jones had surmised that the Germans would track the experimental flights using radar, and that these two companies would probably be involved. He told Professor Frederick Norman at Bletchley Park’s Hut 3 – which handled German Army and Air traffic – of his thoughts, and asked him to see that Bletchley Park and the intercept service followed these two companies as closely as possible. Above all, he wanted to know whether one or the other of them moved up to the Baltic coast and showed signs of deploying itself from Peenemünde eastwards. 14th Company did, indeed, turn up in the Baltic, and by the end of November it had been established from the decrypts from this Company that the speed of the missile was between 216mph and 300mph, and once 420mph, that the rate of its fall was 2,000 metres in forty seconds, indicating that the missile had wings, and the maximum range might be 120 miles.

A key Luftwaffe decrypt, read in December 1943, sent to the Signals Experimental Regiment was the first Sigint reference to A4 – the German name for the V2. Intelligence sources interpreted this decrypt as meaning that a high altitude rocket was being developed on the Baltic. By this time intelligence was clear that both a pilotless aircraft and a long-range rocket were being developed, enabling counter-measures to be considered, with the V1 the most likely early problem, some eighty-seven ski sites for their launch having been identified by PR flights. Many of these sites were subsequently bombed, beginning in December 1943, and by June 1944 it was thought only twenty-five sites were capable of operational activity. It was known that the flying bombs were being fired by Flak Regiment 155 (W) – the ‘W’ stood for its Commanding Officer, Colonel Wachtel – and that the Germans were building more sites. Meanwhile, Enigma decrypts continued to provide more information. An SS cipher revealed that V1 trials were being carried out at ‘Heidelager’ – codename for an SS camp at Blizna in Poland – with additional information coming from the Polish underground, who were picking up fragments from the flights after the weapons had landed and retrieving parts and taking photographs. Indeed, the Polish underground would race the Germans to a crash scene, hoping to pick up fragments before them. Eventually, after interminable delays, the first V1 rockets were fired at England in the early hours of 13 June 1944 – a week after the D-Day landings – but only ten in all, of which only four reached England, five having crashed immediately. Three days later 244 had been fired, of which 144 reached land in England, seventy-three hitting London. The V1 had a maximum range of 125 miles, flew at 420 mph and reached heights of 4,000 feet.

The V-Weapons-British Code-Crackers II

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The inspection of a V1, which had landed in Sweden after a test flight, debris from early attacks on London and finally the overrunning of launch sites near Cherbourg after D-Day had given the Allies considerable information about this new weapon. By the time the main V1 offensive ended on 5 September 1944, eighty-three per cent had been destroyed by gunfire as they flew over southern England. Indeed, on 28 August, defences destroyed ninety out of ninety-seven flying bombs, only four reaching London. As the Allies advanced, many V1 sites were evacuated and new depots set up in places such as Nucourt, St Leu and Rilly-la-Montagne, all in northern France, which were discovered through Bletchley Park decrypts. But the Germans had changed to a new method – launching V1 missiles from aircraft. Enigma decrypts in July 1944 referred to the Luftwaffe Third Bomber Wing, III/KG (Kampf Geschwader) 3 (later I/KG53), and it was not until the end of the month that the real purpose of this group of Heinkel 111s was realised. The air offensive of V1s on England ended on 13 January 1945, after 4,261 had been destroyed by fighters, anti-aircraft attack and barrage balloons. But, from October 1944 until the end of March 1945, V1 attacks were carried out against Antwerp, Liège and Brussels. Indeed, there were more attacks on Antwerp than London.

The Japanese Naval Attaché’s enciphered messages had revealed more information about the V2 and then Bletchley Park had a major breakthrough when a special Enigma key, known as Corncrake, was first intercepted in June 1944 and revealed messages being sent between Peenemünde and Blizna. These decrypts were the first to reveal to the Allies the name of Wernher von Braun who, post-war, was to be a major figure in the American space programme. There were three special cipher keys for the V-weapons: Corncrake, Ibis and Jeboa, which operated between March 1944 and the end of the war. Jeboa was a Luftwaffe key and handled V1 attacks, the other two were Army keys and dealt with the V2, Corncrake handling experimental and preparatory information, while Ibis covered the actual operations. Although these were special V-weapon keys, other keys also provided information on these weapons, such as the Luftwaffe key Brown, which had provided information on the beams directing bombers to their targets during the Battle of Britain as well as other keys.

Corncrake only lasted from the middle of May 1944 until the end of July. It was discovered after a long message was brought into Hut 6’s Army Research – which at the time also housed the Army cryptographers – for a routine examination, as was standard procedure for new and obscure groups. The initial break of 13 May is described in the Official History of Hut 6:

The contents of Corncrake created an intelligence sensation in Hut 3 [Army-Air Intelligence]: the exact significance of much of it was obscure but clearly referred to scientific artillery experiments of importance … Strong representations were made from the highest quarters in the Park in favour of a determined drive to break more days and the work was at once set under foot.

Corncrake’s W/T system comprised three stations – Heidelager (which acted as Control), Peenemünde and Koeslin – and practically all the traffic was to and from Heidelager. Corncrake suddenly ended with the evacuation of Heidelager on 23 July 1944, and no traffic was passed after this date. On Ibis, with one exception, all the breaks occurred in the six weeks from 12 February to 24 March 1945. In fact, Ibis traffic was passed in small quantities back in October 1944 – the rocket attacks had commenced the previous month – and it was not until November that its separate identity was revealed. Ibis passed traffic not only on Enigma, but quite large quantities in other ciphers, and the Enigma messages could be identified by the non-Enigma traffic which, it was discovered, was concerned with the launch of rockets, as the messages coincided with the times of V2 launches. The V2 launch batteries in Holland were in a habit of sending evening messages to their Group Control containing a list of the rocket launches. Bletchley Park dubbed these messages ‘Rocket Bradshaws’, all providing times of rocket departures from Holland. The times of arrival in England – four minutes later – were not given. Ibis traffic, which reached its peak at the beginning of February 1945 with eighty messages a day, fell to a trickle in March and vanished altogether in the last week of that month. The American Enigma-breaking bombes had done sterling work on Ibis, and it was perhaps fitting that the last V-key to be broken was on VE-Day, 8 May 1945.

Jerboa, the V1 key, gave Bletchley Park twenty days of breaks in a period of less than three weeks from 13 August to 2 September 1944. This key came to the attention of the codebreakers in July 1944 and was known from its three-letter traffic, known as Klavier, which was connected with the launching of flying bombs. In early September 1944, Jerboa disappeared in consequence of the Allied advance through Belgium and France. In December 1944 and later February-March 1945, there was a resurrection of Jerboa, which reached its peak in the week ending 24 February, with a daily average of fifty-one messages. The following week this fell to fifteen and finally disappeared for ever. In July 1944, Professor Jones had concluded that figures contained in Enigma messages were production numbers and that there were around 1,000 rockets available. By now the view of the Crossbow committee was that the V2, manufactured by Mittelwerk, comprised liquid fuel rocket engines, supersonic aerodynamics, gyroscopic guidance and rudders in jet control. In all, 5,200 V2s were built, and they could be fired from a simple site or mobile platforms, and did not require a complex launching mechanism. Such was the concern at the highest levels of government of a combined V1-V2 attack, that contingency measures included the evacuation of two million people and of factories and hospitals from London as well as providing protected buildings for government officials who would have to remain in the capital. On 14 July, a decrypt had revealed a message from Blizna to Peenemünde, referring to the supply of fifty one-ton ‘Elephants’, which turned out to be the codename for warheads. However, Britain’s boffins were still struggling with the weight of the V2 and its exact components, with the weight being assessed at between eleven and fourteen tons, fuelled by a mixture of liquid oxygen and alcohol and some compound including alcohol and with a range of between 120 and 200 miles, depending on the size of the warhead, calculated at between one and two tons. It was also believed to take between about four and six minutes to travel either 150 or 200 miles. Then a hint that the V2 offensive was imminent was discovered in a decrypt from the Japanese Ambassador in Vienna in August, quoting German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop as the source. Moreover, there were considerable problems locating the V2 sites, causing considerable anxiety among the top brass. In the hunt for information on the V2, an Enigma message gave a vital clue when it revealed that someone from Blizna was interested in a crater 160 miles away, a distance that was beyond the range of the flying bomb. As Professor Jones recalled, ‘This single fact made us think that we were once again on the trail of the rocket.’

On 8 September 1944 the first V2 attack on London took place, fired from Holland and landing at 1843 in Chiswick, followed another sixteen seconds later by one falling at Epping. The Last V2 was to fall on England at 1645 on 27 March 1945 at Orpington, Kent. At Peenemünde, the first successful launch of a V2 – after two failures – was on 3 October 1942. Although an awesome weapon of destruction, for the boffins who had been working on the project, many for ten years, it was a moment to savour. According to General Dornberger, for the first time a machine of human construction, a 5.5 ton missile, covered a distance of 120 miles with a lateral deflection of only 2.5 miles from the target. They had become the first to have given a rocket built on the principles of aircraft construction a speed of 3,300 mph by means of the jet drive peculiar to rocket.

We have thus proved that it is quite possible to build missiles or aircraft to fly at supersonic speed, given the right form and suitable propulsion. Our self-steering rocket has reached heights never touched by any man-made machine.

There was little defence against these attacks except the bombing of V2 operational sites. In addition, the Double X system – turned German agents sending back false information to their Abwehr (military intelligence) handlers under the control of MI5 – were misleading the Germans about the accuracy of the rockets, persuading them to fire the missiles short of their targets. Bletchley Park was also playing its part, as much of the intelligence was obtained from Corncrake which, temporarily suspended at the end of July when Blizna was evacuated, resumed on 16 August. It first threw light on the V2 organisation on 19 and 21 September, when Bletchley Park decrypted signals between 14 and 16 September. This revealed site visits by SS General Hans Kammler, a civil engineer who took over from Dornberger and became Special Commissioner of the V-weapons programme in August 1944 when it came under SS control. Kammler had designed the extermination camps, including gas chambers and crematoria. He had also been involved in various other secret weapon projects. He is believed to have committed suicide in May 1945, although his body was never found. The decrypts also revealed that V2 trials had been transferred to a new site at Tuchel, north of Bromberg (Bydgoszcz) in Poland. Low grade cipher traffic about the V2 was also read by Allied intercept units in Belgium.

The intelligence gathered on the V-weapons was a classic use of every means of obtaining top secret information. Not least was the heroism of the underground resistance forces, especially in France and Poland, many of whom were captured, tortured and gave their lives to obtain vital information, the use of ‘turned’ agents to send back disinformation to their German handlers, photo reconnaissance flights and codebreaking. The V1 created havoc and 10,000 were fired at England, 2,419 reaching London, 3,857 were shot down before reaching their target, thirty landed on Southampton and Portsmouth, and one on Manchester, killing a total of 6,184 people and injuring 17,981. The grim statistics of the V2 rocket tell their own story. An estimated 2,511 civilians were killed in London with 5,869 seriously injured, and 213 were killed and 598 injured elsewhere. The V2 statistics from 8 September 1944 to 27 March 1945 are that 1,054 fell on England (about five a day), 517 (less than three a day) hit London and more than 2,700 Londoners were killed. As to the value of the V-keys, The Official History of Hut 6, looking to the post-war world, commented that the ultimate significance of the V-keys ‘lay in their long-term connection with the probable future of developments of science as applied to war’. The German boffins had come close to finding a decisive weapon, but as General Dornberger commented, only one thing can be said with absolute certainty, that the use of the V2 could be aptly summed up in two words: ‘too late’. He complained that lack of foresight in high places and failure to understand the technical background were to blame. Nevertheless, what had been created was new and unique and could never be erased from the annals of technology. He remarked:

We tackled one of mankind’s greatest tasks regardless of circumstances and found a first practical solution; we opened the gate and pointed the way to the future.

That comment, written at the end of the war, has proved to be accurate. Modern warfare is all about scientific and technological weaponry. Today’s armies – and the civil space programmes – can trace their origin to Nazi Germany and the terror weapons.

Air Espionage Far East

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There were tensions between the SOE Force 136, headed by Colin MacKenzie, and OSS Detachment 101 commanded by William Peers – particularly in the China–Burma–India theatre of operations. The Americans preferred to use local agents recruited from anti-colonial or nationalist factions including the communists, and a certain amount of subterfuge had to be employed by the old colonials, particularly Britain and France.

Typical was one of the first operations that No. 357 Squadron flew from Kunming in south-east China on 4 September. Flt Lt Bill Cost and the crew of Liberator BZ847 flew into the American base with six French agents on board, all dressed in RAF uniforms. By the time the aircraft took off again bound for Indo-China the agents had changed into Free French Foreign Legion uniforms. Two nights later the squadron dropped two Thai SOE agents on the outskirts of Bangkok, where the pro-Japanese government had just been overthrown by Allied sympathisers in the police and navy.

The OSS felt that the British were limiting their operations in Thailand, as well as in Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies, and was determined to establish its own airborne support for Detachment 101 and to no longer have to rely on favours from the hard-pressed RAF SD squadrons. Douglas C-47 Skytrains were in short supply and Col Cochrane was still loath to release any of his for the clandestine transport of a few agents. One type that was readily available was the Stinson L-5. Able to operate from short airstrips hacked out of the jungle by native tribesmen, the L-5 was ideal for covert missions behind the lines; its only drawback was that it could carry only one passenger – or two at a pinch – in the tandem seat behind the pilot. OSS officer Lt Philip S. Weld of Detachment 101 was flown to one such airstrip at Hpungkan-Tingsa in Burma, 60 miles south of Myitkyina, in an L-5 on 15 October. His mission was to take command of a group of Chingpaw tribesmen, but within days Weld and the tribesmen were retreating further into the jungle pursued by Japanese forces. After calling for a number of stores drops to their remote camp, all of which were unsuccessful, Lt Weld was forced to trek overland, to reach Allied lines after nearly three months in the field.

Further to the west No. 628 Squadron Catalinas continued to fly a series of long-distance SD operations to the occupied Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, including two flown by Flt Lt B. Daymond and Jack O’Meara. On the first one they had to evade a Japanese convoy to land agents at Chance Island. Daymond’s ‘Cat’ stayed on the water for two hours, covered by O’Meara circling above, while the agents checked out the bay before going ashore. Eventually the two flying boats returned to Red Hills after an elapsed time of 26 hours.

On a subsequent operation Daymond’s Catalina hit a submerged object that ripped a hole in the hull while making a night landing off Bentinck Island. With great presence of mind, he was able to take off again before the flying boat flooded and to circle the island, while his crew plugged the hole with mattresses and spare clothing, before he could land safely, offload the agents and return to Red Hills. Daymond was to fly three more operations during October, flying more than 100 hours, most of them over enemy territory.

Master navigator George Drummond had flown eleven SD missions during the month, including one on 28 October. His Catalina flew from China Bay on Operation ‘Oatmeal’ to land four agents and their equipment on the Perhertian Islands, off Kota Bharu on the east coast of Malaya, when a Japanese patrol boat appeared, causing the mission to be aborted after 30 hours in the air. Two days later Flt Lt McKeond and WO Brooks returned to the Islands with Capt Ibrahim bin Ismail and three Malay NCOs on Operation ‘Oatmeal II’. Although the agents were betrayed by informers, Ismail managed to persuade his Japanese captors that they were willing to act as double agents, and for the next six months they transmitted and received spurious messages to and from Force 136 headquarters.

Flg Off Armand Etienne, a Russian-born ‘Black Cat’ pilot serving with No. 43 (RAAF) Squadron, flew 900 miles from Bowen, Queensland into enemy territory on 24 October to rescue another Catalina crew. They had been forced down on the sea off Makassar in the Celebes after being hit by anti-aircraft fire during a mine-laying operation the previous night. The downed No. 42 (RAAF) Squadron crew had managed to taxi away from the enemy coast while covered by a long-range USAAF P-61 Black Widow night fighter, and at dawn Etienne’s Catalina A24-59 arrived overhead and landed alongside the stricken flying boat. After the crew and their equipment had been transferred to the Black Cat, the abandoned A24-100 was sunk by gunfire from the P-61.

Although the main role of the US Navy and RAAF Black Cats was to locate and intercept nocturnal enemy shipping in the Pacific, on what were known as ‘Mike Searches’ by the Americans and ‘Milk Runs’ by the Australians, some of No. 43 Squadron Catalinas also carried out spoof raids, dropping ‘window’ to confuse Japanese air defences during mining operations in the waters around the Philippines.

At the beginning of December in the Burma–China–India theatre Dakota KJ921/‘H’ of No. 375 Squadron flew the first RAF pick-up operation into Burma from Jessore. Its pilot, Australian Flt Lt Terence ‘Pat’ O’Brien, had survived a tour on Coastal Command Blenheims before being seconded to the Army in India. Almost by chance he had found himself in the co-pilot’s seat of a Waco glider on Wingate’s second Chindit operation and had spent four months fighting his way out of the jungle with the help of local tribesmen and OSS agents. One of the latter, codenamed Edgar, was Capt Oliver Milton, a British-born soldier who had been dropped behind the lines in 1942 tasked with rescuing USAAF airmen shot down while flying the formidable mountain ranges between India and China known as the Hump.

Escorted by eight US Marine Corps F4U Corsairs, Utgoff’s PBY flew from the recently taken base at Leyte Gulf to Luzon, the most northerly island of the Philippines and still deep in Japanese-held territory. He landed at an isolated bay and ten evading airmen and escaped PoWs were ferried out to the flying boat by the Filipino villagers who had hidden them from the Japanese. As he climbed away from the bay, Utgoff sighted a Japanese patrol boat heading for the village and asked the Corsairs to intervene. The enemy vessel was sunk by the fighters’ 0.5in machine-gun fire.

At the beginning of 1945 the strength of the Allied special operations organisations had reached its peak. Some 12,000 men and women worked for SOE, almost a quarter of whom were trained as agents. They included some 500 FANYs who worked as wireless operators and cipher experts keeping contact with agents in the field. Although, unlike some of their colleagues in Europe, none was sent into the field herself, they manned some of the most remote outposts in the Allied theatre. Eight of them had even flown the Hump to Kunming, the important Allied railhead leading to the Chinese government’s wartime capital at Chungking.

OSS had almost exactly the same number on its staff at 40 locations around the world, including 2,000 at Field Station London. At this time 45 per cent of its operations were directed to its Far East Theatre of Operations (FETO), with less than 20 per cent devoted to the European theatre, including Germany.

During January No. 357 Squadron flew a total of 105 SD operations including its longest to date, from Chittagong to South Lahore, flown by Flg Off John Churchill on 25 January, in an airborne time of 21 hours 55 minutes. The squadron’s last Hudson operation was flown in January when Flt Lt King mounted a mission from Kunming in China to pick up a single Free French agent from Indo-China, which was still under a pro-Japanese, Vichy-style administration.

OSS Detachment 404, attached to SEAC Headquarters at Kandy in Ceylon, was responsible for operations in Thailand, previously considered an SOE stronghold. However, on 25 January an OSS mission was flown to the Gulf of Thailand by a No. 628 Squadron Catalina to make contact with pro-Allied members of the Thai government. One of the three agents assigned to Operation ‘Sequence’, Richard Greenlee, who had been brought up in Thailand as the son of a US missionary, was picked up again by the same flying boat on 4 February on the first leg of a journey to Washington to brief his superiors on the outcome of his meetings.

Six weeks later he returned to Thailand on another RAF Catalina as part of an OSS operation codenamed ‘Siren’. He would remain in the country while yet another No. 628 Squadron flying boat picked up his two colleagues, one of whom was suffering from a nervous breakdown, and an evading pilot, Lt W.D. McGarry, who had been a PoW for more than two years. William ‘Black Mac’ McGarry had joined the American Volunteer Group (AVG), known as the Flying Tigers and based at Kunming, six months before Pearl Harbor and had scored ten victories when his P-40 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire while attacking a Japanese air base at Chiang Mai in Thailand on 24 March 1942. Captured by the Thai forces, he was handed over to the Japanese who, after a short interrogation, handed McGarry back to his captors. He escaped from an internment camp in May 1944 and had lived on the run with the help of friendly villagers for almost a year before making contact with the OSS mission.

Operation Siren had been mounted by the OSS as a token of appreciation for McGarry’s old boss, Gen Claire Chennault, who had formed the Flying Tigers in 1940. He now commanded the US 14th Army Air Force in China and frequently provided some of his overburdened fleet of transports to support OSS operations. Between February and April several OSS agents were inserted along the south coast of China between Hainan and Hongkong as part of Operation Akron, flown by armed USAAF C-47s that were now being released for use by Detachment 101. Following the invasion of the Philippines USAAF Catalinas also began to undertake clandestine support operations, dropping agents and stores to native resistance fighters over a wide area in the South Pacific. On 19 March two OSS agents, four downed US Navy aircrew and a Catholic priest were plucked from the south coast of China by a USAAF 2nd Emergency Rescue Squadron (ERS) OA-10A Catalina based at Morotai. On another mission by the 2nd ERS Lt Shandelmeir landed on the coast of Naburos Island to pick up five evading airmen and deliver weapons, ammunition and leaflets to the tribesmen who had located them.

No. 112 ASR Flight RAAF, based at Darwin, was another Catalina unit specialising in long-range rescues of Allied aircrew in Japanese-held waters and was involved in one of the most demanding air-sea rescues of the Far East campaign. It took place on 6 April 1945 when ten RAAF Mitchells and four Liberators attacked a Japanese troop convoy, escorted by the light cruiser Isuzu, off Koepang in the Netherlands East Indies. Japanese Zero fighters shot down two of the Liberators, with eleven members of the crews taking to their parachutes. Catalina A24-54, flown by Flt Lt Bullman, alighted in the area and had picked up four of the survivors when it too came under attack from another Zero, setting the flying boat on fire. It sank within minutes and the survivors of this attack had hardly enough time to scramble onto a five-man dinghy dropped by one of the circling Liberators.

A second No. 112 ASR Flight Catalina, A24-58, was sent to the scene with Flt Lt Robin Corrie at the controls. He was able to land near the dinghy to pull all the airmen aboard, including Bullman, and was searching for two others when two Japanese twin-engined Nakajima J1N Irvings attacked with cannon fire. The blister-gunner of A24-58 responded while Corrie made an emergency take-off with water cascading through the open blisters. Pursued by the Irvings the overweight Catalina twisted and turned only a few feet above the sea, and it was only when the covering Liberator threatened the Japanese fighters that Corrie was able to make a laboured climb to 3,500 feet and the safety of a cloud bank. The flying boat, escorted by the Liberator, eventually arrived safely at Darwin and although another search was mounted for the missing aircrew, none was found.

The US Navy’s VPB-34 was also actively involved in rescuing downed airmen, as illustrated by a long-range mission flown over the Philippines by its charismatic commanding officer on 10 December. Lt-Cdr Vadm Viktorovich ‘Vad’ Utgoff, affectionately known as the Mad Russian, was the son of a Russian count, Viktor Viktorovich Utgoff, who had been a seaplane ace with the Imperial Russian Navy in the First World War. After the Revolution, he had emigrated to the United States with his good friend Igor Sikorsky, the pioneer flying-boat designer whose company built the first Trans-Pacific PanAm Clippers in the 1930s. So the young Vad Utgoff had flying boats in his blood.