German in Signals Intelligence Russia I

German officers attending an OKW signals intelligence course in Jüterbog, near Berlin, in October 1944. Left to right: Oberwachtmeister Suenkel; behind the tutor, Hauptmann Russ, of the Fenast post at Treuenbrietzen; the tutor, Major Philiptitsch, also of the Fenast post at Treuenbrietzen; Major Wend, commanding the Fenast at Lauf; Regierungsrat Wilhelm Flicke in glasses; and, next to Flicke, Inspecktor Pokojewski. The Allies had liberated Paris in August and were advancing to the German border. Flicke was tutoring Nachrichtenhelferinnen (female operators) at Jüterbog to replace soldiers drafted into fighting units of the German Army.

The High Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW) were not good at accepting intelligence evaluations that they disagreed with. Nowhere was this more obvious than during the Russian campaign. The papers of Colonel Randeweg, who was commanding the German intercept units in southern Russia before Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, showed a clear picture of the Red Army and Air Force order of battle. Intelligence from the Abwehr reported the Soviet Air Force would be able to field 10,000 aircraft in the event of war and also that the Russian aviation industry was capable of a high production of planes. The Luftwaffe’s general staff discounted this figure and decided that the number of operational machines was in the order of 3,000 and losses would not be easily replaced. They were much encouraged when a captain of the Soviet Air Force was captured and gave up the Russian key to the air code so Luftwaffe fighter squadrons were able to shoot down over 100 Russian aeroplanes in two weeks in air battles over Minsk. The code was changed within a couple of weeks but the damage to the Soviet Air Force was done. Within a month of launching Barbarossa, more than 3,000 aircraft had been shot down, and yet they still were able to show a strong presence in the air. The figures were, therefore, distrusted by the High Command who decided to do an audit and count the number of crashed aircraft. They came to the surprising conclusion that the claim of 3,000 shot down was a considerable underestimate. A revision was then made by the High Command in July, which enabled the OKW to claim that 6,233 Russian aircraft had been destroyed. This was an indication of the attitude of the German High Command to the often incisive intelligence that the Abwehr was able to gather.

The intelligence community was regarded by Hitler as being anti-Nazi and, although all would profess to be German patriots, he was right to some extent, which put them in a difficult and sometimes dangerous position. Chief among the suspects was Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the Director of the Abwehr and spymaster to the German Wehrmacht, and among others was Wilhelm Flicke, senior cryptologist in German signals intelligence. Flicke’s constant references in his papers to the glaringly obvious shortcomings of the German High Command in its direction of the war were almost treasonable. The almost perverse and dismissive misreading of intelligence evaluations created a situation which made not only his, but also his colleagues’ attitudes clear. The unease of the German public about the invasion of Russia was palpable, although it was not evident in the German media which was strongly controlled by the Ministry of Propaganda. The advance of 3 million men of the Wehrmacht, almost half of Hitler’s armed forces’ strength, into the Russian hinterland started with the support of her allies. There were eighteen divisions of Finns (they had a score to settle), sixteen divisions of Romanians, three of Italians and another three of Slovaks, as well as a scattering of Croatians and Hungarians. This vast juggernaut of men and machines was launched against a Red Army whose officers were well aware of the German threat. Stalin refused to recognise it, however, even after Churchill, with the aid of Ultra, warned him of the preparations for Operation Barbarossa.

Almost 200 divisions of the Red Army that were stationed near to their borders were thrown back or overwhelmed in the first onslaught of the attack. Soviet signal communications were thrown into chaos as they reeled before the assault, causing the security of radio messages to become so lax that the German Army intercept units were able to get a clear reading of the order of battle of their opponents. By the end of September, the Red Army communications system began to improve as the army got over the initial shock, although they had lost many experienced radio operators in the first offensive. The Russians had also lost a vast quantity of equipment, but it was mostly out of date and about to be replaced. As war began, Russian industry set about enacting the miracle of production that would churn out enough supplies and equipment to enable the Red Army to later turn the tide in their favour. Also, as the shock of the invasion by the Panzers was absorbed, security disciplines began to return to Soviet radio communications. It was not so in German signals communications, however, as the demand for radio operators and particularly evaluators of the intelligence data had increased by a factor of ten. Experienced personnel were spread more and more thinly to satisfy a rapidly expanding intercept service and this led to fatal mistakes in evaluations sent to the OKW. A communiqué was issued saying that no unified command structure of the Red Army could now be recognised, implying that it was breaking down into isolated groups. The reverse was true; the Russian front was strengthening, but the symptoms were not being recognised by the newly recruited cryptographers in German intercept stations. Their stations intercepted what they thought was the Red Army’s chaos in radio communications, but it was actually resorting to the norm. When security practices returned to Russian operations, fewer transmissions were received and from fewer locations, hence the conclusion was drawn that the organisation of the army was falling to pieces. It was not. Hitler always assumed in his crusade against Bolshevism that the people and the army’s resistance would collapse as anti-Communist forces came to their aid. This was not true as the Russian people saw the German Army as the invaders that they were, resisted very strongly and began to fight what was called the Patriotic War.

It was assumed that the resistance of the Russian soldiers was being maintained by political commissars who were behind them with weapons to keep the men in place in the frontline. As a result, intelligence reports that the Red Army was crumbling were welcomed and in a speech to the German nation he said, ‘The enemy is broken and will never rise again’. This was followed by a statement that:

We have been so forehanded that in this mighty war of materiel I can now cut back production in many lines because I know there is no longer any opponent whom we cannot overcome with the stock of ammunition on hand.

Production lines were substantially cut and the supplies to the front were later greatly curtailed; as a result, German soldiers suffered severely from lack of ammunition on the Russian front. This was self-deception on a grand scale, but there was worse to come as the German media reported that the Russian Marshals Voroshilov, Timoshenko and Budyonny had been relieved of their commands and turned over to the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) in a brutal purge. The German newspaper headlines shouted, ‘They are Silent in Moscow’ – and so they were. The three experienced commanders had, in fact, gone beyond the Urals to train the many new divisions released from duty on the Japanese frontier.

Wilhelm Flicke’s intercept station at Lauf had, meanwhile, been intercepting much radio traffic from the region east of Moscow and come to some disturbing conclusions. In October Flicke’s superior, Colonel Kettler, reported forty new Red Army formations of the size and nature of a division being trained and put into an army reserve of formidable size. Kettler was able to report the nature of each division, such as tank or infantry units, either motorised or cavalry, their composition and strength in men and machines, their equipment and ammunition states and command structure. Flicke then helped him compose a report of his findings in great detail to send to his commander, General E. Fellgiebel. Flicke then added in his papers that this general was later murdered by Hitler following the bomb plot in July 1944. The report was then sent to the OKW for the attention of Hitler where its findings were met with an immediate rejection. A note to Fellgiebel on its cover from Colonel General Jodl said that Kettler should be put out of business. It was countersigned by SS Superior Group Leader Fegelein who noted that this was also the opinion of the Führer. Fegelein was shot on Hitler’s order just before the end of the war. By November there was increasingly stiff resistance from the Russians in front of Moscow as reinforcements to the Russian line began to arrive in total radio silence, a great achievement in radio operations given a movement of that size. A stirring moment in the war is brought to life in the newsreels of Stalin taking the salute at a parade in Red Square in Moscow as battalions of Russian soldiers marched past him and straight on in to the trenches just outside Moscow to hold back the German Army.

German Army commanders eventually began to see the light and General Halder, the Chief of Staff, wrote in his diary that it was becoming ever clearer that they had underestimated the Russian colossus. The High Command had not wanted to get bogged down in a positional war of entrenchment. They had expected 200 enemy divisions to oppose them but so far they had counted 350 and, although they were not always properly equipped or led, they were always there. Whenever a dozen of these divisions were destroyed or captured, another dozen would immediately replace them. In addition, the Germans’ long line of supplies was being increasingly disrupted by Russian partisans while the Red Army were close to its source of supply. The Germans found themselves in front of Moscow with little or no winter clothing in -30°C: their skin froze on to the metal of their guns as they touched them and tore off their hands if they tried to pull them away; the oil froze and the tanks could not function or the guns fire; and the radio sets would not work as the batteries froze, so the German generals had the dilemma of withdrawing and leaving their equipment or staying put to be overrun as their weapons did not work. Then to the amazement of the Germans, the Russians attacked them in early December with forty divisions of fresh, well-equipped reinforcements from Siberia, who considered the Moscow weather to be relatively warm. They fell upon the German troops like wolves and the whole of the German Army Centre Group retired in disarray to a line 90 miles distant from Moscow.

German intelligence had failed Hitler once again after a complete lack of warning of the Torch landings and now an underestimation of the strength of the Red Army by almost half as much again. Russian production achievements had massively exceeded the Abwehr estimate and their T-34 tanks were beginning to appear on the battlefield in their thousands.

American aid was also coming to their new allies through the Middle East. Hitler berated Canaris for the failure of his organisation in public and the Admiral knew that he would pay a high price for the failure in a way that would only help Himmler’s SS who were building a separate intelligence organisation of their own. The intelligence service, or rather services, were in conflict and the results would be disastrous, but the Abwehr knew it had to pull off a coup to get Hitler’s approval. Meanwhile, in Russia things were going from bad to worse as the German Army reached its high water mark in their advances into Russia and then the tide began to recede.

In September 1942 the long crucifixion of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad began as they advanced to the banks of the Volga. By November the Russians’ pincer movement had been launched and the two arms met at Kalach behind the German Army. Russian troops encircled the Sixth Army, although the Luftwaffe was able to lift 50,000 men out of the trap. A final surrender in February of the following year had cost the German Army almost a quarter of a million men as casualties or prisoners. This great public humiliation for Hitler and his army convinced the world that the Wehrmacht was not invincible. The last message from General Paulus, commanding the doomed Sixth Army, was intercepted by the Lauf listening station and Wilhelm Flicke recounted how the message brought in by a duty officer read, ‘My Führer, in future follow more the advice of your Generals!’ The document was passed from one adjutant to another until it landed on the desk of Field Marshal Keitel. He ordered that it be taken into the office of the chief of the supreme command of the armed forces of the Third Reich immediately. The author himself knows how impressive and overbearing the entrance to Hitler’s office was, as he visited the bombed and ruined Reich Chancellery just after the war. The double doors were 30ft and each was 6ft wide with heavy sculptured bronze images depicting German myths of the past. None of those brave soldiers in attendance on the Führer ventured to volunteer to pass through those doors to take the document to him – Nazi Germany occasionally copied the Greek practice and killed the messenger bearing bad news. Finally the paper was placed in a portfolio with others and laid on Hitler’s desk in a casual manner, and then a small but apprehensive group waited outside.

The silence did not last long, from behind the massive double doors came the sound of breaking vases and chairs being overturned. Hitler tore the telegram into smaller and smaller pieces and ranted and raged at everything and everybody but himself. Keitel was summoned and listened to the strident demands for the degrading of Paulus from his rank of field marshal, confirmed for him the day before. It was too late as the announcement had already gone to the press so Keitel stood, stony faced and took the tirade of bitterness and frustration. In the ruins of Stalingrad the new Field Marshal Paulus marched what was left of his army through the snow into a long captivity from which only 5,000 would return. Flicke made a surprising assertion in his papers about another battle at Kharkov further south, which was regarded as a masterpiece of manoeuvre by one of Hitler’s best generals, von Manstein. He persuaded the Führer that a positional war such as Hitler had experienced in the First World War needed to give way to one of movement. The general was allowed to manoeuvre the Red Army into a trap as exhausted Russian troops ploughed on to the extreme of their supply chain before the German Panzers struck. The world saw von Manstein’s victory as a model of defensive mechanised warfare but Wilhelm Flicke, whose listening station measured the action blow by blow, did not.

Flicke compared Kharkov with Napoleon’s ‘victory’ at the Battle of Borodino where the Imperial Russian Army was defeated but Napoleon’s army was so damaged in the battle that its ultimate fate was decided. Flicke thought that the way that German forces were weakened at Kharkov enabled the Red Army to prevent the Germans from taking Stalingrad or the oil fields in the Caucasus. The real decision in Russia, Flicke asserts, did not take place at Stalingrad but earlier at Kharkov when the Red Army inflicted such severe losses on the Germans that the timetable of the depleted German divisions was upset as they moved on to the Kuban area, the Caucasus and the Volga. The Russians sustained terrible losses in men and materiel but were able to replace them, while the Germans not only lost men but also time.

Soviet espionage activities both within German-occupied Russia and also in the German homeland were well known to the Abwehr. Flicke tells how detailed German operational plans for the 1942 spring offensive were known to the Russians as was the plan to advance across the Volga and into the oil fields of the Caucasus. Areas of assembly of German Army formations designated to carry out these operations and their order of battle, with the numerical strength of the army and their allies, were all known to the Russians in detail. Units from battalion size upwards had been identified with even the names of unit commanders and the numbers of tanks, guns and planes available and those not available but under repair for the coming campaigns. The attack plans for the coming summer offensive of the three German Army groups in Russia had been established and the Rote Kapelle, or Red Orchestra (the Soviet spy ring), had reported them to their Moscow control. In short, the Russian Intelligence services knew as much about the German Army and its order of battle and future plans as Bletchley Park did, although probably by different means.

Intelligence services of all beligerent countries had planted networks of radio agents around Europe, notably the Russians. From the 1930s she was the first country to develop espionage networks with an international dimension. The Soviet Union gradually set up networks of shortwave radios reporting to a control station in Moscow and other lesser control stations in other European countries. Wilhelm Flicke’s intercept service recognised and reported these stations to the OKW who assumed they were a propaganda network for Communist International purposes aimed at spreading the word of Communism across Europe. There was little indication of the network’s size as most of the stations kept a discreet radio silence, nor any indication of their nature as those transmissions that were received were in a code that remained unbroken and only made infrequent transmissions. The network was, in fact, the radio communication system for the Russian intelligence service designed to collect and transmit intelligence gathered by Communist sympathisers across Europe acting as agents. There were many such people before the war who were told to observe and report on all aspects of armed forces activity in their country. In addition they were ordered to report on industrial strengths and weaknesses of the economy in European countries, particularly Germany. Agents were expected to assess the production capabilities of their country and its technology, including the searching of patents. Members of the network were also tasked with monitoring political events and identifying politicians that might have an effect on the wellbeing of the Soviet Union. Soon after the outbreak of war in 1941, the German state security police estimated that there were 120,000 agents and fellow travellers serving the network, who all kept a low profile as they reported their findings through embassies. The long-term investment in establishing this huge intelligence operation was about to pay off in a big way.

German in Signals Intelligence Russia II

The German invasion of southern Russia in 1941. German signals and listening network was extensive due to the need to communicate over the huge distances involved. Their signals intelligence war was as complicated as the rest of this huge military campaign. Counter intelligence radio played a major part in directing the Russian partisans who later helped to destroy the German Army Group Centre in 1944.

The number of shortwave stations that sprang up in all territories occupied by Germany as she declared war on Russia in 1941 increased enormously. Wilhelm Flicke and his colleagues named the network the WNA net, which was taken from the call-sign of the Moscow station directing it. Dozens of radio transmissions on many shortwave frequency bands suddenly came to life and connected to what was to prove to be the largest espionage networks in Europe. The German listening service was overwhelmed; Lauf and other listening stations counted over 600 radiograms in the month of August following the invasion of Russia. Transmissions could be heard coming from every European country but most disturbingly some from within Germany itself. The building of a clandestine intelligence operation of this size and scope must count as being among the most successful the world has ever seen.

The most powerful network in this Russian intelligence assault on the Third Reich’s secrets was undoubtedly the Red Orchestra (Rote Kapelle), as the Abwehr named one of its Soviet espionage networks. The translation of the word kapelle into English is uncertain as it has a double meaning; it can either be a chapel of religious worship or alternatively an orchestra. The author favours the orchestra term because Flicke refers to the operators in the network as musicians in his papers and the director in Moscow as the conductor. The Soviet espionage organisation had three largely unconnected parts each of which gave the Abwehr and Gestapo many headaches. These were the Schulze-Boysen group, the Trepper group and the Red Three (Rote Drie) network, with a base in Switzerland. The first of these was brilliantly run by two men, Harro Schulze-Boysen and Arvid Harnack, who were both Communist sympathisers who managed a disparate group of over a hundred anti-Nazi agents, most of whom had been members of the Communist Party in Germany until forcibly dissolved by the Gestapo. Many in this motley crew did not involve themselves in espionage directly but observed and reported matters of interest to the network leaders. An inner circle of more active agents used their surprisingly good skills and contacts to enhance the observations of the others. Horst Heilmann worked with the Wehrmacht on decoding signals; Johann Gradenz sold aircraft spares to the Luftwaffe and knew about aircraft production; and Herbert Gollnow was a policeman and had access to counter-espionage secrets. Other shadowy figures worked in the German Foreign Office, the Ministry of Labour, and the Berlin Council, holding mainly government positions. From this mixture of observers and activists the Schulze-Boysen Group were able to accumulate a surprisingly rich vein of intelligence evaluations to report to its Moscow control.

The Abwehr’s painstaking decoding of the texts left them astonished at the high quality of the intelligence in the reports, which might concern anything from the movement of thirty army divisions being transferred from west to east, or 400,000 German soldiers holding strategic points in Italy to guarantee that her government would not make a separate peace. At another level, a technical description of a new anti-aircraft gun could be included, as well as more internal political matters. For instance, Hitler’s willingness for the Finns to make a separate peace with Russia once the Germans occupied Leningrad for the purpose of shortening her line of defence and to enable her troops to be more easily supplied was one item reported on. Details of the German war machine and its manufacturing base was another; a breakdown of the statistics of Luftwaffe strength in the air and how the 22,000 machines of first and second line aircraft were deployed. Losses of planes were also enumerated, such as the fact that ten to twelve dive bombers were being built a day but forty-five planes had been lost on the Eastern Front from 22 June to the end of September. These and many other aspects of military and economic information emerged as the horrified German cryptanalysts worked to clarify the contents.

The case caused German intelligence great concern. After breaking up the Schulze-Boysen group, the Germans found that dedicated Communist agents had been planted many years before the war without arousing any suspicion. They had used their positions in industry to gradually make excellent connections and become trusted by leaders in industry and the armed forces. The penetration and breaking down of the network in Germany by the Abwehr was a blow to Soviet intelligence, particularly as the arrests led to the discovery of networks in France and other occupied countries. The link to Moscow using the Schulze-Boysen Group’s captured radio sets was kept up, although Moscow soon realised that their network had been blown. The Russians kept up the double bluff of pretending that the network was still working, as they wanted to distract the Germans while the Soviets strengthened and built another intelligence network.

This new network was the Trepper Group, a Soviet espionage ring run by staunch Communist Leopold Trepper who posed initially as a Canadian industrialist. He started to trade in clothes and underwear in Brussels as a cover for his espionage activities and developed business interests in France, Belgium and Germany before the Second World War. He created intelligence networks of Communist agents in those places using his business activities as a front for his agents while selling black market goods to German forces occupying those countries. He supplied Hitler’s Organisation Todt (the Third Reich’s civil and military engineering group) with materials and to do this he changed his persona to that of a German businessman. He used social occasions and dinner parties to cultivate high-ranking German officials to elicit information about troop movements and building defence projects. In late December 1941 his transmitter in Brussels was detected by a directional indicator and was promptly shut down by the Abwehr and, after a long chase, he was arrested in Brussels. After interrogation, he agreed to work for the Germans by transmitting disinformation to Moscow, although he managed to include hidden signs to his controller giving warning of his plight. In September 1943 he escaped and went into hiding with the French Resistance, but by then all the members of his groups had been arrested, including the well-known French agent Suzanne Spaak who was executed at Fresnes Prison just two weeks before Paris was liberated. Trepper survived and, after the war, returned to his old business of clothes wholesaling and quite possibly continuing espionage for the Soviet Union.

Late in 1941 the intercept services at Lauf began picking up transmissions from three new operational stations, one of which transmitted from Switzerland. Their transmissions to Moscow soon established them as agent stations in the Soviet Red Orchestra. The Abwehr christened this new station Rote Drei or Red Three in the network. It took the German cryptographers until well into 1944 before they could decrypt any of the enormous volume of traffic that passed on the shortwave links to Moscow. The Abwehr rated this network as especially dangerous as it operated in Geneva in neutral Switzerland, outside the security sphere of the Third Reich, although that did not stop them investigating the operation. Its first question was easily answered as they identified Alexander Rado, a Hungarian national, as the main agent in the network. He lived at 22 Rue de Lausanne, next door to the Comintern International offices running a Communist propaganda programme around the world. Rado, whose code name was Dora, had two radio sets allocated to him and was supervised by his director from Moscow Central. Wilhelm Flicke says that one of those sets was at another address in Lausanne, 2 Chemin Longerai, where an Englishman A.A. Foote was living, but how Flicke knew any of this is not clear. He goes on to say that Foote’s cover name was ‘John’ and he did all his own cipher work and worked independently of Rado. This is strange as the Russians and particularly those in the intelligence community had a deep distrust of the British.

Rado established the Rote Drei in 1937 with a small staff in Geneva to cope with the heavy workload of transmissions. German intelligence established the names of all of them and their code names but could get no further information. In the critical period of the battles for Stalingrad and the Caucasus the radios were never quiet and, following the encirclement and capture of a German Army at Stalingrad, the Russian intelligence service faced the most important problem in its history. After the Red Army’s initial breakthrough of German lines, what was the enemy’s situation? Did they have enough reserves to strike a counter blow? Did the Red Army risk falling into a trap as they advanced so rapidly or could they pursue the enemy safely on the Southern Front? This was the finest hour for Rote Drei and indeed the Soviet intelligence service; they rose to it magnificently by answering the Red Army’s questions in detail. The often hourly reports detailing the order of battle of each of the three army groups of the Germans were received in Moscow and proved unfailingly accurate and timely. German intelligence operatives have told the author that the war was won in Switzerland, but how was Rote Drei getting its information and who were its informants? The German security agencies tried every means they could to find the leak that was haemorrhaging away the strength and dispositions of the German Army, but to no avail. They knew all the people in the Rote Drei office in Geneva and watched them closely, as they did with hundreds of people in the Führer’s Headquarters, but could not find a hint of the leak of such critical and wide-ranging information. Wilhelm Flicke wrote that, as the tide turned against Germany in the late 1940s, ‘The Rote Drei’s source of information remains the most fateful secret of World War 2’.

It was obviously a dark mystery to the Germans, but there is a simple explanation; the mysterious A.A. Foote (John), either known or unknown to Rado, was a member of the British secret service, or MI6, whose life story could fill another book. Both he and Rado were being hounded by the Abwehr, together with the Swiss counter-espionage organisation BUPO, but all the time Foote was in touch either directly or indirectly with London. The critically important information that Rado, trusted by Moscow Central, was passing on was intelligence that came from Foote. The content was so detailed and accurate over a long and critical period that it must have come from Bletchley Park. The indirect use of Rote Drei had a double advantage to the Park: first, the information came to Moscow from one of their own tried and trusted people; secondly, it safeguarded the Park’s security as Rado was seen by the Germans as a wizard at finding mysterious sources of information that they could not identify. Meanwhile, the Abwehr and Gestapo were mesmerised into strenuously seeking the answer in the Führer’s Headquarters or the inner circle of the Wehrmacht and never thought to look further afield.

Russian Battlefield Intelligence

The tactical battlefield operations of German intercept units in the field against Russian troops had an entirely different nature to those on the home front described above. Colonel Randeweg, commanding the intercept detachment in the German Army Group South in Russia, recounted his experiences that were probably similar to every intercept unit in Army Groups Centre and North on the Russian front:

The vastness of Russia’s steppes, with little in the way of good roads and almost nothing resembling a commercial or military communications system, left the Russian army with no option but to use radio to contact its formations. German signals intelligence operations therefore concentrated on long-range interception operations to determine the battle order of the Soviet army and air force west of the Ural Mountains.

The mission of Randeweg’s units was to establish the current radio techniques of Red Army operators and what German interceptors could find about their unit’s command structures and strength. The scenario gained from these operations showed a picture of the Soviet Air Force that was very different to the evaluation accepted by OKW intelligence officers as has been seen earlier. The lack of information available to Army Group South about the Red Army caused the Germans to make a grave error in underestimating the Red Army’s strength.

Russian military signals security in their frontline units was not good and tank units in particular gave themselves away by faulty security procedures before and during attacks which made German intercepts very effective. In particular, careless requests for fuel gave away their positions and condition and transmissions from tank commanders made them particularly vulnerable. In July 1942 the Russian 82nd Tank Brigade had been trapped in a large pocket by the German Ninth Army who intercepted a plain text message discussing a break-out. The Brigade Commander asked about the axes of movement for his formation and was advised on the best location for an escape. The general of the 9th ordered the escape route to be lined with his tank-killer 88mm guns which decimated the Russian T-34 tanks and prevented the break-out so the remnants of the brigade retired into swamp-land for cover. Soon messages were intercepted requesting assistance in towing their T-34s out of the muddy swamp so the German radio operators used a deception on tank commanders, pretending to be Russian and asking for their position so the towing vehicles could find them. They then used the co-ordinates to direct artillery fire on the position and, still pretending to be Russian, the operator was able to keep in touch with the tank commander until his tank was knocked out and went off the air. Finally the Russian divisional staff tried to rescue some of the brigade from its disaster by trying to reorganise the troops and ordering them by radio to assemble at designated points, which then came under further intense artillery fire. The effect of the bombardment could then be checked by transmissions from surviving Russian operators asking for help. The whole of the Russian 82nd Tank Brigade had been wiped out due to lack of radio security. Frontline Russian operators would find it difficult to equal this kind of devastating efficiency shown by German intercept companies.

In the autumn of 1943 German forces were encircled near Cherkassy in a similar way to that of the 82nd Tank Brigade and successfully broke out by intercepting Russian signals in the operation. At the behest of the German propaganda machine, the commander of the brigade of tanks told how he had been able to direct movements of his armour by use of interception of Russian transmissions. An account of it was printed in the German press and after the Russian frontline security of messages improved.

Another aspect of action in Russia was the use the Russians made of partisans. While serving as commissar with Budyonny’s cavalry, Stalin’s role as a partisan in the 1920s allowed him to observe the defects of the Russian radio services, and it taught him much about the value of disrupting the enemy’s supply lines. A band of guerrillas in the vast empty Russian steppes could attack the lightly defended supply routes of the Germans whose first intimation of an attack would be the swish of the skis of the attacker before the destruction of supplies or ammunition intended for frontline units. A major partisan offensive was launched by Stalin using such guerrilla tactics to disrupt the German Army’s ever-lengthening supply lines, causing a major headache for their listening posts. Each band carried a shortwave radio and took orders from their parent Red Army formation headquarters as to where to strike and when. Listening posts allocated to identifying these radio sets complained regularly that it was impossible for them to keep track of literally hundreds of tiny mobile stations transmitting in their sector.

As the tide of battle turned from the high water mark of Stalingrad and then Kursk, the Russian use of radio communications became more adept and the German interception service was gradually overwhelmed. As the Red Army fought along its savage 3,000-mile journey from Moscow across Russia and Poland and then through Germany, increasing numbers of German intercept companies and their equipment were destroyed or abandoned. The Russians, on the other hand, became more and more confident in their radio communication service and took less and less care as they advanced. By the time the Russians were on the outskirts of Berlin they were confident enough not to encode messages. The Germans, on the other hand, were using their skilled intercept personnel as infantry in a last ditch effort to hold back Russia’s avenging army. In the last of his papers, Wilhelm Flicke asks the great why. Why, when the intercept service revealed the growing strength of the enemy on all fields, did they not stop the war when they knew it could not be won? German soldiers continued to fight as the Russians advanced into the gardens of the Reich Chancellery and the doors of Hitler’s bunker in Berlin. The most convincing answer he received came from a German ex-soldier, wounded in battle with the loss of an arm: ‘It has to do with the German culture,’ he said, ‘we continued to fight because we were never told to stop.’

Military Communication, the Korean and Vietnam Wars (1945-1975)


The SAGE building at McGuire Air Force Base, circa 1958. On the far left are cooling towers for the generators located in the (low) middle building. The “cube” has four floors, with air conditioning and wiring on the ground, the computers on the second floor, offices on the third and the combat center on top.

Research to improve military communication continued apace following World War II. Many government entities including the National Bureau of Standards contributed to research, as did many corporations seeking government contracts, including David Sarnoff’s RCA. Effective radio communication was essential in the year-long Berlin Airlift that involved both military and civilian pilots flying cargo along narrow flight paths.

Korean War (1950-1953) communications generally used equipment from and followed patterns set in World War II, though television brought a delayed view of the war to home viewers. Much World War II communications equipment had been properly moth-balled and stockpiled in Japan in 1949 to 1950. American forces lived off this equipment during the early, desperate months of the Korean War. Korea’s climatic extremes, mountainous terrain, and lack of good roads greatly complicated communications. The Army Signal Corps depended heavily on very high frequency (VHF) radios to span the long distances, while on the ground signal soldiers often used water buffalo to string wire. After truce talks began in mid-1951, the front became largely static, and wire and radio operations more routine. Paradoxically, the Army Signal Corps also tried carrier pigeons, though they proved vulnerable to Korean hawks.

Seeds of the third military communications revolution were laid in this period. Development of the transistor at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in the late 1940s began what would become the solid state electronics revolution in communications. The notion of solid state electronics had been suggested in principle in the early 1950s and was of central interest to the armed services. If workable, such systems promised huge benefits of special value to military applications-robustness, lower weight and power requirements, and far greater capacity. The U. S. Air Force contracted with Westinghouse in 1959 to experiment with “molecular electronics.” The Signal Corps was already developing a “micro-module” project to shrink component size across a variety of military needs. Research and development work was underway at many companies, usually funded by Air Force or Navy contracts. Over the next dozen years reliance on fragile vacuum tubes was swept away in the face of more durable transistor circuits.

That revolution was substantially boosted with the integrated circuit invented independently by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce in 1959. They both determined that squeezing all elements of an electrical circuit-transistors, connections, and other electronic devices-onto a tiny silicon chip could be accomplished and would save considerable space while speeding up signal processing speed. Eliminating the need for individually hand-wired connections between the transistors and other elements would also greatly increase circuit reliability. The potential was huge. These tiny means of powering electronic devices aided the drive to component miniaturization that lay behind the development of ballistic missiles and computers. By the 1960s, Silicon Valley was fast developing, funded in part by growing military procurement of information technology (IT).

Working with the U. S. Air Force, the Army Signal Corps launched the world’s first communications satellite in December 1958. Two years later it cooperated with the Weather Bureau and others to develop the first weather satellite.

Communication links proved vital in the short but intense 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. By the late 1960s, communications satellites had begun to allow instantaneous communication from central military commands to remote parts of the world. For more local areas, intelligence ships bristled with communication antennas of all sorts, but as the Liberty affair proved, they were vulnerable to attack or takeover. China, India, and Pakistan developed increasingly sophisticated systems of military communications, as did such smaller countries as the Netherlands. British Commonwealth nations including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa all honed their communications systems, many of which dated to before World War I.

In 1960 the U. S. Department of Defense put its various communication systems under unified control to become a single Defense Communications System, managed by the Defense Communications Agency. In October 1962, a concept of operations for a World Wide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS) sought to integrate all of these systems. Operating from 1963 to 1996, the WWMCCS was a centralized system to access information and communicate directives to American military forces. Labeled a “loosely knit confederation” of systems, WWMCCS lacked the centralized design, procurement, and operations needed to perform its mission successfully on a consistent basis. In 1967, the packet-switched DARPANET began to connect a growing number of academic and defense research establishments- it would operate for more than two decades. DARPANET (which would evolve into the Internet in the mid-1990s) used computer protocols to interconnect different types of equipment and software.

The Vietnam War (1959-1975) saw the peak of analog military communications potential. Airmobile communications closely tied ground troops to their air support. For the first time, high-quality commercial communications became available to the soldier in the field. On the tactical level, new transistorized combat radios enabled infantry, armor, and artillery to communicate directly with each other. For strategic purposes, the Signal Corps employed such sophisticated techniques as microwave relay and tropospheric scatter. The American Phu Lam communications hub in South Vietnam processed growing amounts of military information by the early 1970s.

Priority access over all systems-including the first communication satellite links-was assigned to command-and-control and intelligence users, while logistics, personnel, and other less urgent matters were carried on slower radio-teletype links until the introduction of first-generation digital communications (the automatic digital network, or AUTODIN, system) in 1968. After American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973, shortages of skilled technicians and spare parts rendered some 40 percent of the U. S.-supplied communications equipment held by South Vietnam forces inoperable. As a result, increasing quantities of their classified messages were also carried by courier until the war’s end in 1975.

North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces relied on a combination of old and newer means of communication, primarily paper orders carried by couriers as well as Chinese and Soviet radio equipment. U. S. intelligence estimates showed that signals personnel comprised less than 5 percent of total enemy unit strength, compared with up to 20 percent in American ground forces. Security protocols included use of prearranged transmission times, spectrum frequency changes, concise messaging, and one-way communications. During large operations, minimal use was made of radios; troops relied instead on traditional couriers, fire and flame, lights and beacons, and music signals (whistles and the like).

Unlike in earlier wars, tactical military and larger political concerns were very closely intertwined, often confusing propaganda messages and effects. Broadcasts, loudspeaker announcements, and leaflets were the primary means of transmitting messages against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese throughout the fighting areas. But both enemy forces were far more complex targets (they were more committed to their fighting role than earlier opponents) in what many considered a civil war. The way in which the war ended in Vietnam had a debilitating impact on the practice of military propaganda and psychological warfare, and their importance sharply declined in the American military services for several years.

Throughout the 1945-1990 Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union spent enormous sums on weapons, communications security, and counterintelligence efforts, though often with only limited result. As but two examples of expensive means of air defense communications, the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system pushed analog technology to the edge of what was attainable. Security of American military transmissions fell to the Signals Security Agency, soon to become the huge National Security Agency based at Fort Meade, located north of Washington.

Behind the Battle of Europe

Aircraft forced to land because of foggy conditions. Shortly after the pilot and the passenger were arrested by the Belgian Gendarmerie, top secret documents were found: the plans for the invasion of the Low Countries. The passenger named Major Reinberger tried several times to destroy the documents, but never succeeded. Pilot Major Hoenemanns.

Between the fall of Poland and the opening of the Norwegian invasion lay one of the strangest periods in history—the months of the “phony war”. Standing on the ruins of Warsaw in September, 1939, Hitler appeared to be satisfied with the carnage he had wrought, but deep within himself he was perplexed. What to do next?

He toyed with both peace and war. On October 6, 1939, he invited Britain and France to talk peace, but was rebuffed. Groping for something else, he kept his generals on pins and needles while he played with half a dozen ideas; for each they had to design a possible campaign. “Sunflower” was the name for a possible campaign in North Africa aimed at Tripoli. “Alp Violet” was to be aimed at Albania. “Felix” contemplated crossing Spain to seize Gibraltar. And “Operation Yellow” was to conquer the Low Countries.

Traveling salesmen flocked to Berlin—native conspirators from Holland, Belgium and Norway—peddling their countries to Hitler. From Holland came a fluffy, shifty-eyed philistine named Anton Mussert, a puppet dangling from strings held by the Abwehr. From Belgium came a scheming, pampered dandy, Leon Degrelle. Before long, Hitler succumbed to their siren songs. He pushed “Yellow” to the top of his shopping list and issued top-secret Order No. 4402/39, instructing Army Group B of General von Bock “to make all preparations according to special orders, for immediate invasion of Dutch and Belgian territory if the political situation so demands”. Shortly after-wards, A-Day (as it was called) was fixed for the invasion. Weather permitting, it was to be November 12. A phony war, indeed!

This pending campaign was consistently jeopardized by the twin scourges of the secret service, delays and leaks. The invasion had to be postponed again and again, and, during the procrastination, details of the design came to be known.

Among the first to learn of the plan were the Italians, many of whom hated the Nazis in spite of their formal alliance. The Italian military attaché in Berlin tipped off both his Belgian and Dutch opposite numbers. (The Dutchman, Colonel Sas, already had the information from Oster.) In Rome, the Foreign Minister, Count Ciano, also warned the Belgians and Dutch. At great personal risk, a leading member of the German opposition, Minister von Buelow-Schwante, went to Brussels and, in a clandestine audience, delivered a warning in person to King Leopold. Both the Belgians and the Dutch skeptically shrugged off the warnings.

Just then something quite extraordinary happened that should have lent weight to these scattered storm signals. On January 10, 1940, a Luftwaffe plane, piloted by a Major Hoenemanns, was on a flight to Cologne with a copy of the Dutch-Belgian deployment plan for the command of Army Group B. Hoenemanns was unaware of the exact nature of the papers he carried and took his mission somewhat lightly. For one thing, he took a hitchhiker along, a General Staff officer; for another, he was somewhat careless in plotting his course. He lost his way and came down in a field near Machelen on the Meuse inside Belgium.

Hoenemanns and his hitchhiker, Major Reinberger, were duly alarmed when they found out where they were and decided to burn the papers. It so happened that both men were non-smokers and they had no matches on hand. The first man to reach the spot was a Belgian and Hoenemanns immediately asked him for matches. He complied and they set to burning the papers. Before the two men could get too far with it, a Belgian patrol closed in, extinguished the blaze and arrested the Germans. Interrogation revealed that Major Hoenemanns belonged to the 7th Luftwaffe Division of parachutists with headquarters in Berlin and that he was attached to the Luftwaffe Unit 220, whose plans were to transport the 22nd Infantry Division by air to points of attack. British combat intelligence identified the division as specially trained for the landing of airborne troops in Belgian territory.

Although badly charred, the documents could still be salvaged. They were three in number, containing instructions for the Luftwaffe’s VIII Aviation Corps, describing in detail the impending attack on Belgium and the role parachutists and airborne infantry were to play. It was a complete blueprint of the campaign.

Although they became somewhat apprehensive, the Belgians were not unduly alarmed. They evaluated their find from all angles and finally decided that the whole incident was a clever ruse staged by the Germans to drive fear into Belgian hearts in order to tighten their neutrality. Anxious to avoid any complications, the Belgians hastily repatriated their unwelcome guests, returned the stray plane and closed the incident.

In Germany, Hoenemanns’ ill-fated mission created understandable consternation and led to another postponement of the operation. What’s more, it induced the High Command to redraft the whole plan.

While this was going on, Allied intelligence preoccupied itself with fantastic projects rather than with the business at hand. Some efforts were made to establish the order of battle of the German Army, but virtually nothing was seriously undertaken to discover the intentions of Hitler or to cover the movements of his forces and to conclude from these movements the direction in which he planned to go. While Germany was feverishly preparing for the campaign in the West, Allied intelligence concluded, from the apparent idleness of the Wehrmacht, that Hitler had shot his bolt and was bogged down in melancholy confusion, accompanied by growing dissidence within the Wehrmacht High Command.

French Service de Renseignement was now headed by General Rivet, an excellent and a gallant officer, but a stranger to the specific problems of a secret service at war. The deficiencies of the organization baffled those in the field. “To be perfectly frank,” wrote the historian Marc Bloch, then serving as a reserve officer in the field, “more than once, I found myself wondering how much of this muddled thinking was due to lack of skill, how much to conscious guile. Every officer in charge of an Intelligence section lived in a state of constant terror that, when the blow fell, events might blow sky-high all the conclusions that he had told the general in command were ‘absolutely certain’. To put before him a wide choice of mutually contradictory inferences ensured that no matter what might happen, one could say with an air of triumph—’If only you had listened to my advice!’ Officers whose job resembled mine never got any information at all about the enemy, save what they were lucky enough to pick up in general conversations, or as a result of some chance meeting—in other words, almost exactly nil.”

French combat intelligence officers in the field tried to take matters into their own hands, but their efforts were sabotaged from above. For example, it was imperative to establish what stocks of motor fuel the French could expect to find on the spot should they be forced to move into Belgium to meet the Germans. The Belgian General Staff, inspired by the King’s devotion to strict neutrality, proved highly un-cooperative. A French intelligence officer with General Blanchard’s army heard of a certain Belgian fuel dump and established contact with a confidential informant who gave him the required data about the capacity of the tanks. Moreover, the man volunteered to keep the tanks filled to capacity if that was what the French General Staff wanted. “This would make your supply problem easier,” he said, “in the event of your finding yourselves constrained, some day, to move your troops into the territory in which they are situated. Alternatively, I can maintain the bare minimum necessary for the requirements of peaceful commerce, thereby avoiding the danger of having to abandon the valuable resources to the Germans. It is for the French General Staff to decide. As soon as I know what they want done, I will take the necessary steps.”

The matter was referred to a higher echelon of intelligence, but the officer in charge said, “Our job is to collect information, not to make decisions”, and refused to have anything to do with the matter. The young officer was shunted from one office to another and in each he heard the same formula. Thus rebuffed, the young man decided to resolve the issue on his own level. He sent his contact a coded message, “Don’t fill the tanks,” justifying his insubordination with a melancholy rationalization: “Unbroken silence on our part,” he said, “would have betrayed to this foreigner the shilly-shallying state of mind of the French General Staff. It was bad enough to know it ourselves.”

The German preparations, of course, were moving rapidly ahead. One problem plagued the top brass: how could the Germans prevent the bridges over the River Maas and the Albert Canal from being destroyed? If they could be seized intact, the army could sweep over them and seal the fate of the Low Countries in a matter of days. Early in November, a conference was held in the Chancellery to discuss this problem. Hitler presided and Canaris was in attendance. The Abwehr was ordered to prepare a plan for the seizure of those bridges by a ruse de guerre, by sabotage troops dressed in Dutch and Belgian uniforms.

Back in the Fuchsbau, Canaris called the keeper of his depot at Quenzsee to inquire how the Abwehr stood with Dutch army uniforms. He was told Quenzsee had some, but they were out of date. The Abwehr needed a few up-to-date pattern uniforms to enable the tailors (inmates of concentration camps) to make enough uniforms for the adventurous admiral’s little land army.

The problem was referred to Commander Kilwen, head of the Dutch desk of the Abwehr, and he in turn got in touch with Mussert in Holland. The Dutch Fuehrer decided to steal the uniforms, but to camouflage the theft as common, garden-variety burglary. Mussert handed the job to a trusted member of his bodyguard who was a professional burglar in private life.

The raid on the Dutch army depot was reminiscent of what New York burglars call a “Seventh Avenue heist.” Mussert’s burglars got what Canaris needed, but the thief was caught on Belgian soil with the uniforms in his possession and the cat was out of the bag: he confessed that he had been in the process of doing a “job” for the Germans and that Canaris was the mastermind behind the burglary.

Strangely enough, the incident struck the Dutch and the Belgians as extremely funny. They were far more amused at the plight of the clumsy burglar than alarmed by the implications of the burglary. A Flemish newspaper published a cartoon showing a grinning Goering, dressed in the uniform of a Brussels street car conductor, admiring himself in front of a mirror.

Canaris was called on the carpet by Hitler and Goering. He went to the meeting well prepared, with newspaper clippings and agent reports, assuring his bosses that the Dutch and the Belgians suspected nothing or else they wouldn’t have treated the whole thing as a joke.

But Canaris still did not have the uniforms. He sent to Holland one of his best agents, whose specialty was surreptitious entry. Where the burglar failed, the Abwehr thief succeeded brilliantly. With the help of the Mussert organization, he sneaked into the depot—on a night when it was guarded by a Dutch soldier who was a Nazi sympathizer—picked a full selection of Dutch uniforms and sent them, in the German Military Attache’s bulging pouch (which, of course, enjoyed immunity from search), to Quenzsee. From there on, General von Lahousen, a former Austrian intelligence officer who was taken over by the Abwehr after the Anschluss, did the planning. Lahousen had his own sabotage troops, the Brandenburg Regiment, but it was not big enough to handle such a complex operation. Lahousen flew to Breslau and from that location with Abwehr volunteers organized Special Battalion 100 to take care of the Maastricht bridges, with one of his officers, Lieutenant Hocke, in command. From his regular sabotage troops he then formed Special Battalion 800, with Lieutenant Walther in command, to carry out the operation at Gennep.

At Gennep a platoon of Battalion 800 was to be “captured” by agents of Mussert disguised as Dutch frontier guards; the German “prisoners” were then to be escorted to the bridges, which they were to seize with the active co-operation of their hosts. On A-Day, May 10, 1940, well before zero hour, Walther led his Battalion 800 to the rendezvous with the Mussert agents. The Dutch traitors apparently disarmed their “prisoners”, but left with them handgrenades and automatic pistols concealed under unseasonable greatcoats. With the help of their “captors”, these “prisoners” pounced upon the Dutch guards at the Gennep bridges, who did not even know the war was on. The operation was a resounding success.

Things did not go as well at Maastricht, perhaps because (1) those Abwehr volunteers from Breslau did not have the savvy of the men of Battalion 800; (2) they lacked the assistance of Mussert’s men; and (3) because the Dutch regulars guarding the bridges were not paralyzed by the sudden appearance of transparently phony Dutch soldiers driving up in cars. The bogus Dutchmen were greeted by volleys of shots. Lieutenant Hocke was killed and, in the ensuing confusion, the real Dutchmen managed to blow up the three bridges.

The mishap stunned Canaris. He drove to the spot and was visibly depressed when he realized he could not hand up to Hitler this special invasion-day gift. He found whole columns of German tanks and trucks jammed on the roads, waiting while engineers were building pontoon bridges. Even so, Dutch resistance was crumbling rapidly. The fiasco was forgiven and forgotten when, only five days later, Dutch resistance collapsed and the campaign was over.

Canaris had been busy elsewhere, too: his Abwehr organized an attempt to abduct Queen Wilhelmina. She was to be quarantined at the moment of the invasion to prevent her from leaving Holland. Hitler had been gravely disturbed by King Haakon’s flight from Norway, an unexpected move that led to certain political complications, serious in aspect, during the consolidation of that conquest. Now, in the Netherlands, he was determined to foil any such attempt on Queen Wilhelmina’s part, lest she become, like the King, the focal point of resistance. Commander Protze in Wassenaar and Klewen of the Abwehr’s Dutch desk were ordered to pin down the Queen at The Hague. The plans went astray; she was gone by the time a delegation of Protze’s thugs reached her palace to carry out Hitler’s order.

The Queen had no intention of leaving Holland and was absent by a misunderstanding. She had asked the British to send some fighter planes to go into action against the German bombers. Her telegram was garbled in translation and in London it was thought she was asking for a plane to fly her out of Holland. No plane could be sent, but a destroyer was diverted to take the Queen on board.

The Queen embarked and told the captain to take her to Flushing in Holland; no matter how he tried, however, the captain could not enter the harbor. In the end, he told the Queen there was nothing to do except to head for a British port. She arrived at Buckingham Palace at 5 p.m. on May 10, wearing a tin hat, bedraggled and worn, still moaning that she could not stay with her people in their darkest hour. So if anybody succeeded in kidnaping Wilhelmina, it was the British, but whether or not there was any premeditation in the act, nobody will say, even today.

The Bomber Gap and the Missile Gap

A Soviet Myasischev 3M (NATO reporting name “Bison-B”) photographed from an intercepting U.S. Navy aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) during that carrier’s deployment to the Western Pacific and the Vietnam War from 27 January to 10 October 1968.

At the end of World War II, the United States had a very large bomber force that had been a major factor in the defeat of Germany and Japan. The United States was also building up an atomic arsenal, a weapon technology in which the Soviet Union lagged behind. The Soviets detonated their first nuclear device in 1949, much to the surprise of the U.S. administration and its intelligence community, which estimated it would take the Soviets another three years to achieve this (Polmar 2001, 34). Initially, the Soviets were badly behind the United States in numbers. In 1953, for example, they had 120 such weapons, compared with more than 1,100 American ones (Norris and Arkin 1994, 59). But their real problem lay in how to bring these bombs to their targets.

In their distress, the Soviets copied the American B-29, several of which had made emergency landings in the Soviet Union after missions over Japan (Hardesty and Grinberg 2012, 347–53). The first public appearance of this bomber, copied through reverse engineering, occurred in 1947, and the Soviets produced several hundred of them. But all the time, they aspired to a more advanced, jet-propelled bomber. The United States already had the B-47, and in 1952 the B-52 made its first flight. As a counter to these, the Soviets developed the Myasishchev M-4 Bison, which made its first appearance over Red Square during the May Day parade in 1954, accompanied by four MiG-17s. Western observers were highly impressed, and even more so when in an aviation show the next year some thirty such bombers made an appearance. But soon it was revealed that the Soviets did not actually have that many such bombers; it was a smaller group of aircraft that made the flyover and, when out of sight of the audience, turned around for another flyby (Polmar 2001, 87; Prados 1986, 41–43).

Nevertheless, the appearance of these bombers drove the American intelligence community to make more and more dire predictions about Soviet bomber capabilities. In the beginning of 1956, the air force’s chief of staff testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Soviet Union had more Myasishchev M-4 bombers than the total number of bombers possessed by the United States (Polmar 2001, 87). The administration was forced to accelerate production of the B-52, until it was found that these threat estimates were exaggerated (Roman 1995, 24). The actual danger to the United States proper was small because of the distances, but the problem was not protection of the U.S. itself. Any meaningful Soviet bomber force would have a major influence on other potential fronts, from Europe and the Pacific Ocean to the Far East.

The debate soon spilled over from professional aviation magazines and into the mass media, and even the U.S. News and World Report published articles in May 1956 headlined “Can Soviets Take the Air Lead?” and “Is the U.S. Really Losing in the Air?” (Polmar 2001, 87). Consequently, the American public developed increased sensitivity to what was going on in the Soviet Union, and every bit of information was interpreted in the most pessimistic manner. Concurrently, the Americans were becoming aware of the potential of long-range ballistic missiles, and this growing concern was fed as well by articles in the press. In February 1956, the Soviets launched a nine-hundred-mile ballistic missile, and President Eisenhower admitted in a press conference “that the Soviet Union might be ahead of the United States in some areas of the missile field” (Polmar 2001, 87).

By July 1956, things were calming down. The U-2 started flying over the Soviet Union and provided definitive information that the Soviets probably had far fewer advanced bombers than previously estimated (125 instead of 700), and although there was progress in ballistic-missile work, “intelligence estimates indicated that the Soviets would not be able to deploy militarily significant quantities” of ICBMs prior to the 1960–1965 time frame (Roman 1995, 24).

Into this bubbling cauldron dropped the first Sputnik on October 4, 1957. The hysterical reaction to the launch, and with the bomber gap still a living memory, it was easy to conjure up a missile gap. Since most of this discussion was aired in the press, the Soviets contributed at every opportunity to American uncertainties by issuing stories about their achievements in the missile field. It was simple propaganda, often based on blatant fabrications and outright lies, about their prowess in missile production (Polmar 2001, 123–24). At that time of confusion, and following their own failures in testing and launching, the Americans were willing to believe anything. It got so bad that when the Soviets stopped testing their missiles, because of severe technical difficulties, the U.S. Air Force immediately interpreted this as the end of the testing stage and a move into full production. This stood in contrast to the opinion of the CIA, which had the right explanation (Polmar 2001, 124; Roman 1995, 36).

The United States faced another problem: for a long time, they did not have any detailed, up-to-date information about production and basing facilities in the Soviet Union. All U.S. estimates in these matters were based on fairly foggy conjectures. A commission established in 1953 to deal with this problem found that the best available information was based on German maps from World War II, and even these covered only the areas west of the Urals (Polmar 2001, 36; Rosen 1991, 205).

In January 1961, before leaving office, President Eisenhower summarized this topic in his State of the Union Address: “The ‘bomber gap’ of several years ago was always a fiction and the ‘missile gap’ shows every sign of being the same” (Roman 1995, 145).

President Kennedy’s administration also suffered from the missile gap concerns. In September 1967, Robert McNamara, in a speech before newspaper editors and publishers, admitted that when he took office in 1961, the Soviet Union had a small stock of intercontinental missiles but had the technology and the industrial capacity to increase it. So since the United States was not sure of Soviet intentions, it had to ensure safety by the production of the Minuteman and Polaris missiles. And he concluded, “I am not saying that our decision in 1963 was unjustified. I am simply saying that it was necessitated by a lack of accurate information” (Rosen 1991, 218–19 and 219n94).

The McNamara speech raised the question of where it would have been more cost effective to invest resources. Would it have been better to maintain a standing defensive and retaliatory force, or to create a better information-gathering apparatus? Even with sixty-year hindsight, this cannot be answered, although admittedly intelligence assets are considerably more sophisticated today.

Another question concerning the Soviets that should have been asked, and which is meaningful today too, is the following: Did they plan a wide-scale deception about the numbers of bombers and missiles they possessed, or were they simply swept along with the unfolding events? Considering the role of the Western press, it is easy to write the following scenario, combining both paths.

The Soviets followed the Western press and its wide-ranging speculations. After the May Day parade of 1954, in which the first Myasishchev M-4 appeared, somebody in the Soviet Union became horrified at the thought that next year’s headline would be, “Despite the halo surrounding Soviet production capabilities, in a whole year they managed to build only five additional bombers. This definitely is a paper bear!” To anticipate this, they decided to engage in a little deception, “flew” thirty bombers, and the West got duly excited. The reaction to the Sputnik convinced the Soviets to jump on the bandwagon and let the West have what it looked for: a Bolshevik bandit hiding under every bed.

In any case, in the long run, the Soviet deception, whether planned or not, proved to be a mistake. There is no doubt that it succeeded—big time. But like the Germans with the Luftwaffe, the Soviets shot themselves in the foot. The Americans became scared and initiated several ambitious development projects, but they had the economic resources to succeed. When the Soviets understood this, they had to make a choice. Either opt out or enter an arms race. They chose the latter and brought about advanced technological development, but it came at an economic price they could not afford for long, and it was only a matter of time before the whole structure imploded. The Strategic Defense Initiative hastened this process and made it sudden, but it is quite possible that this would have happened by itself anyway.

Defeating the V-2 Missiles

The story of the struggle against the threat of the German V-2, the first-ever ballistic missile, and to a lesser degree against the V-1, the first cruise missile, is the story of a chance discovery of unexplained German activity, the attempts to understand what the air photos signified, and the refusal of senior scientists to acknowledge new technology they were not familiar with.

First Discovery

On May 15, 1942, a lone Spitfire sortied for a photo reconnaissance mission over the port of Kiel on the Baltic Sea. From there he was to fly to Swinemuende, a small military airfield at the south end of Usedom Island. About 250 kilometers east of Kiel, when he was near his objective, the pilot noticed that another small airfield, located in the north of Usedom, was being enlarged and vast construction works were being performed. The sudden bustle in this usually desolate area caught his eye, and he started his cameras for a short time, then continued to his original objective and returned to base.

When the pictures were developed, it was found that the pilot photographed a place named Peenemünde that up to then nobody had paid attention to. The photos showed that large construction was indeed going on there. Most interesting were circular dugouts, clearly discerned in the photos, that were bigger than customary for antiaircraft guns. The photo interpreters had no explanation, and the pictures were duly filed and the files put on the back burner.

Today we know that the development and production center for the German “Vengeance Weapons” (Vergeltungwaffen), and especially the V-1 and V-2, was located in that thinly populated place since 1936, in order to keep it away from possible observation and hide the then unusual noise of rocket motors. Also, its isolation and proximity to the sea enabled flight testing without the danger of stray missiles hitting a populated region.

Such an ambitious testing program could not be kept under wraps for a long time, and starting in December 1942 a steady stream of reports about a possible connection between Peenemünde and “secret weapons” trickled to British intelligence, which was getting more and more interested in the place. These joined the initial mentioning of Peenemünde and long-range weapons, including rockets, in the Oslo Report, which British intelligence got in November 1939 and which initially was not taken seriously.

New information about rockets surfaced in March 1943. This was the transcript of a conversation between two German generals taken as prisoners after El Alamein in North Africa at the end of 1942. One was Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma, who commanded Rommel’s armor, and the second was Ludwig Cruewell, who was Rommel’s second in command. The two were separated and made to meet only four months later in a room full of listening devices. Von Thoma told Cruewell that he had once seen the rockets in Germany. Knowing that their prison was somewhere near London but not hearing any large explosions, he thought that the rocket program was probably delayed. He also said that these rockets were intended to be fired at large-area targets and that on their way they climbed high into the stratosphere (R. V. Jones 1978, 333).

The apparent importance of Peenemünde to the Germans was further bolstered by a decryption of an Enigma transmission from the German air ministry dealing with petrol allocations to various research stations, listed according to some order of precedence. Peenemünde was second on the list, way ahead of other bodies whose importance was known (R. V. Jones 1978, 348). (This is an excellent example to how intelligence can come up with important insights by integrating apparently unrelated bits of information. What do priorities in gas allocations have to do with the development of long-range weapons?)

In view of the accumulation of such evidence, a detailed briefing was prepared for the chiefs of staffs. These, together with the prime minister, agreed that this German activity constituted a danger and decided to create a special working group for the “Peenemünde Problem.” A senior intelligence official named Duncan Sandys (who was Churchill’s son-in-law) was named to head this committee, and photo reconnaissance of the area was intensified, but the whole effort suffered from a basic problem: nobody knew exactly what they were seeking or what it should look like, if and when discovered. Another critical problem (which was only much later realized) was the fact that, in the name of “security compartmentalization,” various professional bodies, including the “Shell” company, which did research on rocket propulsion, were not consulted.

Finally, in June 1943, part of the mystery was solved. A “very thick vertical column about forty feet high” was photographed in one of the dugouts. A few days later, the photographs revealed actual rocketlike objects lying horizontally on road vehicles inside the dugouts, although “the cautiously worded report described them as ‘torpedo like objects thirty-eight feet long’” (Babington-Smith 1957, 150). Some people thought these were indeed long-range weapons (although nobody yet thought of guided missiles), while others rejected this conclusion out of hand.

The Big Debate

June 1943 brought a crisis in the debate over the meaning of what was found in Peenemünde. There were no doubts about the size of the objects. From the growing stock of aerial photos and reports of agents on the ground, it was clear that the length of these rockets (if indeed they were rockets) was about ten to eleven meters with a diameter of about two meters. The first difference of opinions was about its mode of propulsion. All concerned assumed a priori that if these were really rockets then they used solid fuels. Everybody knew about solid fuels, and the internal ballistics of solid-fuel rockets was reasonably well understood.

Solid fuels of that period were based on cordite, which is used also as the propellant in standard ammunition. In ammunition, the breech pressure reaches several thousand bars, but in a rocket motor the usual working pressure is thirty to eighty bars. In a solid-fuel rocket, the casing holding the fuel thus has to withstand these pressures. Assuming a reasonable working pressure, and considering the size of the rockets observed, a casing made of steel (with a reasonable safety factor) would have had a thickness of about two inches and weighed about twenty tons. Adding to this the weight of the fuel (in the observed volume) and the warhead, this rocket would have weighted at its launch about forty tons. This meant that just to start moving, let alone accelerate, the rocket motor had to deliver more than forty tons of thrust. Those twenty tons of fuel would not have sufficed to send the rocket to any meaningful distance.

Professor Lindemann, Churchill’s science advisor, objected vehemently to any interpretation of these findings as rockets, basing his objections on the above considerations of weight and thrust.

Because of his role in many of the controversies about German achievements in technology, a brief description of Frederick Alexander Lindemann is in order. Lindemann was a world-renowned physicist who taught at Oxford. During World War I, he volunteered to join the Flying Corps but was rejected for flying duty because of one bad eye. Instead, he was posted to the aeronautical research center at Farnborough. There he developed the method for recovering from a spin. At that time, spin was almost always fatal, and few pilots ever recovered from it while really understanding how they did it. Lindemann worked out the theory and then learned to fly at his own expense. When he felt confident enough he took an airplane up, he entered a spin and recovered from it. Every flying student today practices this technique.

At the end of the twenties, Lindemann became one of Churchill’s (who at that time did not hold any office) closest friends. When the Nazis came to power, he supported Churchill, who was against them and urged the government to strengthen the air force. Although Lindemann descended from a family that emigrated from Germany in the nineteenth century, he too hated the Nazis and helped Jewish physicists who escaped from Germany. When Churchill became the prime minister, he made Lindemann his scientific advisor and consulted him on many subjects. Among other activities, Lindemann established the Department for Statistical Analysis, which continually collected all bits of information about the British economy and worked out a set of reports and presentations that enabled Churchill to have a picture, almost in real time, of the economic resources of the nation. All this before the computer era! But he was also very obstinate, belittled those whom he considered his intellectual inferiors, and had the habit of finding faults in everything (Bowen 1987, 75; Keegan 2003, 331). Once he convinced himself of something, it was very difficult to make him change his mind.

At the end of 1934, the air ministry established a committee to investigate ways to improve the air defense of Britain—the Committee for Scientific Survey of Air Defernce (CSSAD)—also named the Tizard Committee, after its chairman, Henry Tizard, another famous scientist. Two more members were scientists (one current and one future Nobel laureate), and two civil servants who were involved in research-and-development policy. Churchill pushed the committee to accept Lindemann as a member. However, Lindemann, who had several pet projects of his own, especially in the infrared field, demanded that they be considered for development. After a year of conflicts, the two scientists on the committee resigned and the committee was disbanded, but it was later reconvened with its original members and an additional scientist.

When war broke out, Lindemann continued as Churchill’s advisor and as such accompanied Churchill to all meetings. However, his obstinacy and adherence to (scientific) prejudices, even when facts conclusively proved him wrong, soured his relations with many of his colleagues. He was against the use of “window,” against allocating centimetric radars to submarine hunting, at least as long as these radars were in short supply, and did not believe that the Germans were developing electronic devices for bomber navigation. No doubt his contribution to the war effort was considerable, but there is no question that many times his behavior caused delays. His opinions on what was going on in Peenemünde, if not blocked by other scientists, might have caused real damage, maybe even delaying the Normandy landings. The end result would have probably been the same, but in this kind of war victory is achieved by points, rather than by a knockout, and these points have a universal price: blood.

Based on solid-fuel technology and weight considerations, his objections were correct, but a scientist of his standing should have considered or been aware of other possibilities. His explanation of these being some kind of airborne torpedoes was discarded immediately. There was no airplane in Germany that could carry such a large torpedo. Lindemann then proposed that this was all some kind of a hoax. But since it was obvious that Peenemünde was an important facility, what would have been the point in creating a hoax that at best would have called attention to the place and at worst brought down a bombardment?

At the end of June 1943, another meeting concerning Peenemünde took place at Churchill’s headquarters. Over Lindemann’s strong objections, it was decided to bomb Peenemünde in order to eliminate the threat. Another debate then ensued: Should the target be the development and production facilities, or should it be the residence areas of the scientists? It was decided to bomb the residences. The attack was postponed several times and took place in the middle of August. The marking of the exact target by the “pathfinders” (Mosquito aircraft dropping colored incendiary bombs) was not accurate enough, and only the edge of the scientists’ living quarters was hit, with the loss of some 130 German scientists and technicians. The bulk of the bombs fell on the foreign forced-labor workers’ living quarters, where about six hundred perished.

The damage was not as extensive as hoped for, but the Germans still had to complete repairs and bring in replacements for the casualties. They also decided to disperse the facilities to minimize future bombing damage. All these measures delayed the program for a considerable time. Opinions differ as to the extent of this delay—from one month to six months—but there is no doubt that the raid prevented the Germans from dovetailing the V-2 attacks with the V-1 (the flying bombs that were developed in parallel to the V-2 ballistic missiles). Such parallel attacks, if they took place, would have put an unbearable burden on British defense measures. The delay enabled the British to get better organized, including the activation of a deception plan about the impact points of the V-2 missiles that did reach London, causing the Germans to correct their trajectories so as to hit empty fields.

The Internal British Disputes

With time, more details were revealed about the conduct of some persons, on the British side, who had access to the Peenemünde findings or were consulted about them. One of these who consistently argued that the Peenemünde “objects” could not be long-range rockets based on cordite was Dr. A. D. Crow. Dr. Crow was in charge of ammunition development in the British Ministry of Supply and the director of all rocket development programs in Britain. By dint of his position, he was present in all the meetings that dealt with the Peenemünde findings (including the Sandys working group), but because initially he was not familiar with liquid-fuel technology, he rejected any suggestion that the mystery objects constituted any threat.

It turned out that even he did not know all the details. In the beginning of 1941, much earlier than the events described, the British Ministry of Supply contracted the “Shell” company to develop rocket motors to shorten the takeoff run of aircraft. (Today these are called RATO—rocket assisted takeoff.) The most important clause in that contract was that these motors would not use cordite, which was in short supply. An engineer named Isaac Lubbock was in charge of this program, and because of the ban on cordite (and at that time the technology of composite fuels practically did not exist), he chose to develop a liquid-fueled motor based on aviation fuel and oxygen (Irving 1966, 61). Development progressed successfully, and in May 1943 a large group of senior scientists was invited to witness the firing of such a motor. Crow was present at that demonstration, but when he returned to London he did not report the event, and its success, to his colleagues on the Sandys group. In fact, because of the strict compartmentalization, nobody on the Sandys group found out about this development until late September 1943, a month after the Peenemünde raid (Irving 1966, 62).

Crow found an ally in Lindemann, and the two persistently contrived to show that such a large rocket, based on cordite, simply could not work. (Technically, they were correct, as explained already, but they rejected any other explanation of the Peenemünde findings.) A subcommittee for rocket fuels, in which both Lindemann and Crow were members (and in effect controlled it), prepared for the Sandys group a paper that said that the range necessary to hit London could not be attained by a single-stage rocket (Irving 1966, 155).

While the conclusions of this subcommittee were under discussion, Sandys was invited (in mid-October 1943) to observe a test of Lubbock’s liquid-fueled motors and was highly impressed.

On October 25, Churchill convened another meeting to once and for all decide whether the Peenemünde work (some of which was dispersed to other sites after the August raid) constituted a real threat. Lubbock was present too and presented his work, adding that the American Robert Goddard, who worked in the United States in the twenties and thirties, successfully launched several liquid-fueled rockets.

The minute liquid-fueled rockets were brought up, all objections to the idea of long-range weapons collapsed. The explanation to this is simple. Contrary to solid-fuel rockets, where the whole body serves as the combustion chamber and thus has to be able to withstand the full working pressure, in a liquid-fueled rocket, only the (relatively) small combustion chamber has to withstand this pressure, and the rest of the missile, including the warhead and the fuel tanks, just has to be able to carry its own weight plus launch and flight loads, and these are considerably less demanding. Also, liquid fuels contain more energy per weight than solid fuels. Recalculating now the weight of the rocket, a figure of about twelve tons emerged, and this was well within the capabilities of the rocket motor.

This question was thus settled, and the discussion moved on to more pragmatic lines, about preparations for V-1 and V-2 bombardment of Britain. At that time, neither the British nor the Americans could ascertain whether these rockets were guided in some way or not, and if they were what type of guidance was used.

The British bombed the launching sites of the V-1 and delayed their employment. The first were launched only on June 12, 1944, a week after the Normandy landings. In the meantime, the British continued tracking the V-2 testing at a growing number of sites. One rocket veered away from its trajectory and fell in Sweden. British intelligence, which had a working relationship with Swedish intelligence, examined the wreck and found that it contained many electronic components. Because the Germans worried about more bombing raids, they moved some of the testing to Poland, and one rocket landed in a forest. The Polish underground, which found it first, sank it in a nearby marsh. When the Germans gave up the search, the Poles pulled it out, removed some parts they considered important, and one of the men carried them on his bicycle two hundred miles to a rendezvous with a British C-47 that landed in a forest clearing (R. V. Jones 1978, 443–44). At this stage, even Lindemann was convinced and did not object anymore.

The first launch of a V-2 against London took place on September 8, 1944, three months after D-Day. In all, 1,190 rockets were fired against London until all launching sites within range were overrun in mid-April 1945. Antwerp took some 1,600 hits. But it was too late to stop the Allies.

Some Lessons

From the above description of events, it is evident that the critical question, whether to bomb Peenemünde or not, did not hinge on intelligence information (although this was available) but on the personalities of the people involved: Lindemann, Jones, Crow, and a few others. If Churchill was to act properly, he had to listen to Lindemann, his scientific adviser. After all, it was Churchill who gave him the job. At the meeting at the end of October 1943, Lindemann reiterated his position and added, “At the end of the war when we know the full story, we should find that the rocket was a mare’s nest” (Irving 1966, 162). But if Lindemann’s position would have been accepted, it would have caused considerable damage to the Allies, making the invasion more difficult.

Jones, in effect head of scientific intelligence for the RAF, confronted Lindemann back in 1940 when he suspected (based on bits of information) that the Germans were planning to use radar beams for bomber navigation at night—the Knickebein affair. Then, too, Lindemann dismissed Jones’s assertions as folly. Luckily, Churchill sided with Jones and ordered a more thorough test, which proved Jones right. Churchill remembered that incident and enjoyed reminding Lindemann of it, and it is quite reasonable to think that this was the reason for his decision to bomb Peenemünde despite the expected losses. In that raid, the RAF lost forty-one aircraft (nearly three hundred airmen) out of the six hundred planes that took part.

Crow was revealed as a person whose attitude was problematic. He preferred to hide critical information from his colleagues because it might have weakened his arguments. Although a distinguished scientist who contributed much to the British war effort, he refused to accept that single-stage liquid-fueled rockets could prove a practical weapon, even once he found out about them, and thus hindered the work of the Sandys group (Irving 1966, 156n).

The compartmentalization problem rose here in all its severity. It prevented the Sandys group from receiving timely information about the success of the liquid-fuel experiments, which was very relevant to its task. Every beginner in the intelligence business knows that the intelligence picture, whether operational or technological, consists of myriad details, some of which do not seem to be relevant (as in the above case of petrol allocations), and you can never know which bit will make the puzzle solvable. Finally, some of the logic dilemmas and conclusions that evolved from the V-2 affair, and which are applicable to many other topics, are presented and discussed by Jones, who was deeply involved in this subject (R. V. Jones 1978, 455–58).


There is no doubt that the crisis that was increasingly facing the German fighter force was made critically sharper by the `war of the radar sets’, and by the dropping of WINDOW strips in particular. As General Josef Kammhuber, German night fighter CO, said after the war, the time chosen for introducing WINDOW was exactly right-had it been earlier, the German electronics industry would probably have been able to produce a large number of radar sets immune to interference from it. In July 1943, however, the industry was so fully occupied, not least by the demands of the V-2 programme, that there was hardly any capacity left for the needs of the air war. In Britain, on the other hand, the manufacture of bombers and electronic equipment was reaching a peak, and only now making itself really felt. It was an area in which action and reaction came in swift succession. Every new method or tactic was soon countered. Gaining technical leads, short-lived though they might be, brought decisive advantages in the longer term. Radio and radar proved, however, to be two-edged weapons, which not infrequently were their own enemy.

This `war of the radar’ started in the first week of December 1942, when during an attack on Mannheim a 300-km MANDREL screen was deployed to jam and curtail the range of the FREYA early-warning system, and R/T traffic between ground control and the German night fighters was drowned out by loud noise generated by the RAF’s TINSEL device. During the raid on Dieppe, on 19 August of that year, the British had managed to get a closer look at the FREYA radar, discovered its operating frequency, and developed jammers that were already being tested by early September. The MANDREL jamming was circumvented by shifting away from the main jammed frequency, and ultimately by modifying the FREYA, MAMMUT, and WASSERMANN early-warning gears to operate on a lower frequency. Since German night fighters were able to detect aircraft carrying MANDREL, its jamming transmitter was always operated intermittently, for only two minutes at a time with similar intervals, which halved its effectiveness. This was also reduced by the fact that only 200, instead of 600, aircraft could be equipped with it. After a short while the operators of the long-range warning radars in any case learned how to `see through’ the MANDREL screen. The confusion caused among the German night fighters by TINSEL, however, lasted rather longer. Verbal instructions were misunderstood, or made incomprehensible, by the generated noise. To help the pilots hear what was being said, the power of the ground transmitters was turned up; in some cases the day fighters’ frequencies were also used, as the British were unequipped to jam these. Obviously not all the jamming could be overcome, but German countermeasures robbed it of a large part of its effectiveness. As a result British losses, which between December 1942 and February/March 1943 had fallen from around 5 to a low of 3.3 per cent, gradually rose again. The relatively simple and cheap MANDREL and TINSEL devices had, however, forced the Germans to convert their early-warning radars, and to install new R/T sets in their night fighters; this put a strain on the electronics industry, and saved the lives of around 100 RAF aircrews who would probably otherwise have been shot down.

The second unpleasant surprise in the early weeks of 1943 was the realization that British Mosquitoes, flying at great heights with a range of some 400 km, were able to drop their bombs blind on individual targets with great accuracy. For the time being there was no answer to this OBOE method (known by the Germans as `Bumerang’), as no sets had been captured and no transmissions plotted. It proved its efficacy and accuracy over Essen on 5 March and Wuppertal-Barmen in late May 1943.

The third great surprise for the Germans came in early February 1943 with the finding, in the wreckage of a downed Stirling bomber, of a centimetric airborne radar that gave a view of the ground; this became known to the Germans, from the place where it was found, as the `Rotterdam’ device. For the British its name was H2S, also known as PANORAMA because it displayed on a CRT the contours of the ground beneath the aircraft. Initially the purpose of the device was not clear, though it was suspected that it worked in the 8-cm band. The two surviving members of the aircraft’s crew refused to say anything about it, and this showed that it was something special. The find was a sensational one in that it overturned the conviction held among German radar scientists that hardly anything useful could be achieved in the centimetre wavebands, and then only at enormous cost-that it would be better to concentrate on the range between 50 and 240 cm, where current radars were providing most of what was wanted. The substantial echo given by aircraft in the centimetre band was largely unknown-quite simply, no one had so far taken enough notice of these frequencies. As a consequence of this conviction, Telefunken had in late November 1942 closed down its centimetre- wave laboratory. This had been done on the instructions of Gen. Fritz Erich Fellgiebel, general plenipotentiary for technical signals equipment, following a proposal from Dr Wilhelm Runge, Telefunken’s laboratory chief, and in the presence of Gen. Wolfgang Martini and Admiral Erhard Maertens, even though not all scientists and engineers shared this opinion. Martini himself had already, in the summer of 1942, recognized the need to develop radio valves for the centimetre bands, but at the same time had had to accept that because of a shortage of staff little could be done about it. Milch, too, had been pressing for copies to be made of Allied radar interception equipment.

One reason why, as Milch was aware, the German electronics industry lagged far behind its British counterpart was the suppression in Germany of the amateur radio movement, which had always had a great following in Britain. Under the Nazi regime it had always been suspected of espionage. `Anyone . . . with a radio transmitter’, according to Milch, `was 90 per cent ” certain to be a Moscow sympathizer.’ Now Goring too was complaining that `we smashed up the amateur radio “ham” clubs, and we made no effort to help these thousands of small inventors. And now we need them.’ The blame lay also, however, with the splitting-up of German radar research between the various parts of the Wehrmacht, the Reichspost, the universities, and electronics firms, as well as with how the far-too-unwieldy organization of the armed forces’ Ic intelligence dealt with radio/radar matters (in the Luftwaffe at least ten different offices were involved). Up to July 1943 it seems still not even to have been clear who in the Luftwaffe was responsible for high-frequency research ” and development, even though on 12 May Goring had, in something of a judgement of Solomon, given the Generalluftzeugmeister charge of the technical implementation of the radio and radar navigation programme, while leaving in place the powers of the head of signals communication matters, Gen. Martini, as general i/c signals. He no doubt felt that Martini did not have the right amount of drive, and naturally continued himself to take a hand in the “ring’s plenipo-matter. There was furthermore Staatsrat Dr Hans Plendl as Go tentiary for high-frequency research, who was given charge of the Reich office for high-frequency research set up on 16 July 1943.

In 1942 Germany had, in the radar field, only one-tenth of the research capacity available to the British, and it was spread over more than 100 small institutes. There was now a retrieval campaign to bring back to the laboratories around 1,500 scientists who had been sent to the front. After the middle of 1943 the number of scientists and engineers working on high-frequency research gradually rose to more than 3,000. The shortcomings in the centimetre-wave area were seized on by Heinrich Himmler, in criticism seen by younger qualified engineers as well founded, to approach Goring early in 1944 with the aim of launching a judicial inquiry. The grounds were that German industry and the military communications agencies were responsible for Germany’s inferiority in the high-frequency field, and for the ensuing adverse ” course of the war. Goring, with good reason, did not pursue this any further.

Radar Aircraft Warning Service

The keystone for centralizing the control of fighters, flak, and air-raid protection for the air defence of the Reich, and at the same time the basis for its functioning, was the aircraft warning service run by the Luftwaffe’s signal communications troops and acting as `the conduit for control operations’. It had to tell those in charge where the enemy’s attacking forces were, and where they were heading. Its development during 1943 was, while still not integrated, a continuous process. Since the start of the war there had been a series of radio-heterodyne cable networks providing the basis for the reporting service; these were not as vulnerable to eavesdropping as radio traffic, and provided the means of communication between the command HQs, airfields, flak HQs, filter centres, ARP warning HQs, and meteorology offices. The AWS also included the radar observation service, detecting transmissions from Allied airborne radars, IFF, and tail-warning radars; the enemy-aircraft movement plotting system; the jamming service, for disrupting enemy ground and airborne radar and R/T traffic; and-especially important for signals intelligence purposes-the radio interception service set up to listen in to enemy W/T and R/T transmissions and read their codes. Originally conceived as a strategic intelligence tool, it remained in practice only a tactical one.

The task of the radio intercept service, within the Reich air defence system, was to provide an up-to-date picture of the situation in the air over England, that is to say systematically to monitor and report on Allied com- mand, W/T, R/T, navigational, and air-traffic control transmissions. It was also required each day to discover impending attacks, by 1600h for any British night raids and by 1800h for American daylight raids (in each instance for the following night or next day), together with take-offs, assembly, and departure of their formations; it was also to report any changes in enemy deployment plans and cancellations of sorties. It further had to use various methods, independent of each other and of radar, for plotting the enemy’s track, and to assign the relevant radar stations and direct them via the observer service. Immediately after an Allied air raid, a combat report was to be made on the number of enemy formations involved, their strength, dispatch bases, landing bases, reroutings, losses, and damage suffered.

For XII Air Corps the processing of all this information, coming in reports ” from a large number of other stations, was carried out at the Seerauber (`Pirate’) radio-monitoring message centre located at Zeist in the Netherlands.

While an enemy incursion was under way, the aircraft warning service had to determine the situation in the air at any time as quickly as possible, exactly and comprehensively, and pass this information on to the fighter units, flak, and ARP warning service. To do this it was divided into aircraft warning companies, each comprising a filter centre and a ring of observer posts feeding reports into it. Broad-area observation was served, along the coasts and later inside Germany as well, by long-range radars of the WASSERMANN and MAMMUT types; these had ranges of 150 to 250 km, which allowed them to detect enemy aircraft flying at 7,000 m as far away as central England, and ” plot their course. Apart from these, the WURZBURG and longer-range FREYA radars formed the AWS’s standard equipment. Because of the shortage of radar sets, there was still in August 1943 a large gap in coverage along the old border of the Reich in south-west Germany; enemy formations approaching over France `disappeared’ into this hole, and were able to make dramatic changes of course quite unobserved. It was, in particular, very difficult, with the RAF employing ever more resourceful tactics, to tell the difference at night between main, nuisance, and spoof raids and feinting manoeuvres and to alert the fighters soon enough and deploy them at the right time and place. The reporting system using teleprinters entailed considerable delays in the information getting through. With the enemy aircraft flying increasingly higher and faster, the AWS was becoming barely able to fulfil its task. The FREYA early-warning radars were frequently being jammed by enemy transmitters when the British made their night raids. Furthermore, other radar sets, like the flak’s gun-laying radars, were being blinded by the strips of metal foil. In October 1943 the 8th Air Force on its daylight raids, too, began ” jamming the WURZBURG sets with airborne transmitters in the 40 to 70 cm band and from 26 November additionally with CHAFF, while at the same time switching to bombing through cloud without sight of the target using the H2X ground-mapping radar. In daylight and with good visibility the aircraft warning service was indeed able, using optical and acoustic means (sound locators), to determine the position, aircraft type, and strength of enemy formations and their speed-something the radars were not always capable of; but in poor visibility it often (in the opinion of Gen. Wolff, the Luftwaffe commander for Luftgau Hamburg) failed, mistaking its own fighters for enemy bombers. All this jamming and these shortcomings not infrequently made it hard for the AWS to arrive at an accurate picture of the situation in the air. Ultimately, the situation reports flowing into Luftgau headquarters came from three different sources: alongside the AWS the flak artillery, with its ” WURZBURG and FREYA tracking and gun-laying radars, also provided a picture of what was happening, though mostly only a local one; and the night-fighter force with its control system provided a rather wider view across the areas it covered. Co-operation between these various participants did not always work. During bombing raids the lines of communication between them and the individual radar sites and observer posts could be severed. Moreover, the radar plotting networks of the three organizations contributing to the overall picture had developed differently. Insufficient production meant that the aircraft warning service was initially treated as the poor relation when it came to allocating radar equipment; the lion’s share went to the flak and to the central fighter division operations rooms, fully expanded by 1943, at Deelen, ” Stade, Metz, and Doberitz, and the fighter control operations rooms at Schleißheim and Vienna. More and more the building up of a broad-area picture of the situation in the air came to be based on these operations rooms, which drew their information from the superbly equipped night-fighter stations reporting to them. The Reich aircraft warning service came more and more, through the direct link between its observer posts and the fighter operations rooms and night-fighter stations, to take on a customer role, no longer at all independent and now merely passing on information on the situation to the air-raid warning service and civil ARP authorities.

In late August 1943, at a meeting on night fighters, Milch stated: `I get very much the impression that the whole aircraft warning service ought to be overhauled from top to bottom . . . that it is a thoroughly out-of-date set-up. ” Gen. Martini acknowledged that in the provision of FREYA and WURZBURG radars the AWS had been neglected in favour of the flak and fighter commanders. Now, as Luftwaffe Commander Centre had asked, ten out of the 40 FREYAs produced in September were to be allocated at once to the AWS. Improvements would be made: the network of observer posts would be strengthened, small filter centres set up linked to the night-fighter HQs, wide- area coverage created by merging several filter centres, and the transmission of information speeded up (by replacing land-line teleprinter communication by telephone links or radio reporting). These measures were decided on at ” the meeting with Goring on 25 September 1943. On the question of subordinating the AWS opinions were, however, still divided. The generals in charge of day and night fighters, Galland and Kammhuber, agreed with ” Goring in wanting it placed under the fighter command. Maj.-General Schmid of XII Air Corps/I Fighter Corps, Maj.-General Schwabedissen, commander of 5th Fighter Division, and Lt.-Colonel Herrmann were against this, though they wanted the right to issue orders and receive priority service.

Generaloberst Weise argued for it to be placed under the Luftgau commands. Goring came to no decision, though he wanted the fighter commanders to have preferential and comprehensive treatment.

Gen. Martini had already made a start on strengthening the aircraft warning network in the spring of 1943. He did so step by step, beginning with areas through which the Allied bombers were mainly passing-Luftgau VI (Munster), the Netherlands, western France, Luftgau XI (Hamburg), and so on. In Luftgau VII (Munich) the new organization was introduced on 6 December. In the areas of maximum effort the number of observer posts was increased, in particular through setting up small filter centres attached to the fighter defence’s radar sites in order to complement or replace the radar contacts with visual/acoustic detection if the radars were put out of action by jamming. Martini had thus stepped up co-operation between the fighter controllers and the aircraft warning service. He further instituted three levels within the system-small and main filter centres, plus a wide-area coverage by combining several main centres at the Luftgau or flak division HQs. The `commentary’ system too had, because of the radar interference from WINDOW, already been used for the first time by the fighter controllers during the Hamburg raid on 27/8 July. To obtain an overall picture of the situation across a wide area, Martini had FREYA `hedgehog’ sites (comprising three radars each covering a 120-degree arc) set up at effective points. And as has already been mentioned, flak-fire director officers had been attached to fighter-division HQs to provide better co-ordination between the flak and the fighters. The fighter command further tried to overcome the difficulties caused by the inadequate performance of the aircraft warning service, and by the jamming of radar, through the use of radio/radar DF stations, which were able to plot the enemy’s track. The KORFU radars, for instance, could locate aircraft using H2S so long as this was switched on, and the NAXOS gear could pinpoint British aircraft carrying the MONICA tail-warning radar. The FREYA radars were also used in the `Flamme’ method (by triggering IFF responses from the British aircraft) mentioned earlier. The range of this UHF technique depended on altitude, and with aircraft at 10,000 m could be 360 km. The `Flamme’ reports soon took on great importance for determining the situation in the air. Many gaps in the overall picture over Germany were filled in by the use of air-reconnaissance aircraft, and by the JAGDSCHLOSS 120-km-range panoramic ground radar introduced in 1944.

The relationships in the whole field of aircraft reporting and warning that ” had formed by this time were enshrined and given basic structure by Goring’s order of 28 February 1944,337 by which achieving `an integrated overview of the situation in the air . . . by removing the aircraft warning service from the Luftgau headquarters’ brought about `the organizational and operational amalgamation of the aircraft warning and aircraft tracking services . . . in integrated fashion . . . under the headquarters of the fighter commanders’. The fighter divisions and fighter controllers, who had long had the fullest and earliest overview of the situation in the air, thus became the central points at which knowledge of the situation coming from all sources was pooled; they became responsible for providing the overall and up-to-date picture. These sources were, to list them once again, mainly the radar organization, the air- craft plotting and warning organization, the radio/radar monitoring service, and the air-reconnaissance aircraft flying by day and night. From now on the sole means of passing the reports within the aircraft warning service and to the end-users was the `commentary’, and no longer the written word. The density and depth of the observer post network was laid down by the fighter commanders; they were to be sited around 30 to 40 km apart, and it was planned to have them closer together along the coasts and fronts. At the same time it was intended that they should no longer be arranged in belts or rings, but be spread out and partly overlap. Deep inside Germany they were to be set up in important areas and sited at the best possible vantage points complementing the radar network which, where it was placed in hilly terrain, gave only imperfect coverage. They were not only to scan the skies with eyes and ears (for which they were to be given the right optical and acoustic equipment), but also-especially when jamming put the electronic devices out of action-to track the low-level intruders who in 1944 were becoming increasingly com- mon. They were further responsible for identifying the enemy aircrafts’ target, determining the make-up of their formations, and reporting on their course and the target indicators and bombs they dropped, as well as for observing the Luftwaffe’s own aircraft. Because of these functions, observer posts were always to be linked to the aircraft warning centres of the nearest radar sites. These centres formed the first picture of the air situation for a limited area, compiled from visual and aural observations and radar contacts. The AW centres within a given AW sector were in turn to link in with the assessment carried out at the fighter operations rooms. They thus became AW sector centres, taking over the tasks of the earlier filter centres. The AW sector centres then reported to the operations room of the fighter division in whose area they were located. Within the divisional AW centres the findings flowing in from the radio intercept service and air reconnaissance, and their own view of the situation, were brought together to form a picture of the situation in the air. The air fleets had liaison units supplying them and all the other end-users (in particular the flak and ARP warning service) with the division’s overall assessment. For this purpose there were with them, as with the fighter corps, AW centres supplied with a situation overview by means of commentary from the fighter divisions.

There were now first-rank radar sites forming the basic network of aircraft warning service. Each of these were to be equipped with a new JAGDSCHLOSS 360-degree panoramic search radar, with a radius of around 80 km. With these set up at intervals of 150 km, it was reckoned that 125 would be needed to cover the whole of Germany and German-occupied territory; only 15 were, however, in operation by the time the war ended. The first-rank radar stations within the Reich were to be equipped with a panoramic search radar, a long- range search radar (both of these, until such time as they were delivered, to be ” replaced with a FREYA), a further FREYA, one or two GIANT WURZBURGs, and a SEEBURG plotting table, where they were also to be used for `dark’ night-fighter operations in the `Himmelbett’ system. Along the coastal fronts the intention was to provide each of them with one or two long-range FREYAs and GIANT ” WURZBURGs and a SEEBURG table whenever they were involved in `dark’ night- fighter operations. In each instance an observer post was included. Later on, Y, EGON, KORFU, and NAXBURG gears were added. A radar station could, if suitably located, be used as an AW sector centre. Because of the fairly limited ” range of the WURZBURGs, second-rank radar stations were set up to provide a denser network in areas particularly subject to air-raids; these had no long- range radars, and were less generously equipped. They were also allocated observer posts, and the associated AW centre was similarly second-rank. In addition to these there were also third-rank sites and centres, all feeding their reports into a first-rank one.

The fighter divisions produced the sole air-situation report, the use of which was obligatory for all; this ended the coexistence of three different views of what was happening in the air (from the fighters, the flak, and the Luftgaue) and the confusion that often resulted. Yet shifting the responsibility onto the fighter-division operations rooms also created difficulties, as these did not at once have the appropriate personnel to cope with the additional duties; the new system was not equally successful everywhere. Nonetheless, the delay in passing the information could be cut to a matter of seconds, since all reports from all sources were immediately displayed graphically on a plotting table, and errors and duplicated reports avoided. The commentary system meant that observation, reporting, assessment, and forwarding of the information happened in quick succession. Using common land-line and radio links, fighter-division officers-articulate and with a clear enunciation-simultaneously passed information to the headquarters of Air Fleet Reich and I Fighter Corps, the Geschwader under them, the Luftgaue, the flak divisions, and the ARP warning centres and AW sector centres. The decimetre-wave radio network was immune to enemy interruption.

The backbone of the aircraft warning organization was provided by the FREYA radars, which had a range of some 120 km and were less vulnerable to jamming. The most far-reaching surveillance came from the WASSERMANN and MAMMUT radars, with ranges between 200 and 300 km. The JAGDSCHLOSS panoramic search radar had an enhanced resolution in range and azimuth, and ” was particularly suited to detecting low-flying aircraft. The GIANT WURZBURGs were the standard gears for altitude ranging, fighter control, and flak location and gun-laying tasks.

The further expansion of the new AW system needed a great deal of time, and was hampered by the loss of the forward areas in the west and south (and there also by the geography and terrain). In general all went well, but Gen. Martini was still in November 1944 complaining that the reorganization ordered at 7th Fighter Division and in East Prussia had not yet been carried out, and that the order on restructuring had not even been communicated to Air Fleet 6. A link between 1st Fighter Division in Berlin and 8th Fighter Division in Vienna, needed for exchanging information about flights out of and into their areas, still did not exist. The area of the Alps was not adequately covered, so that most reports coming from the south were reaching 7th Fighter Division in Pfaffenhofen too late; in that area the JAGDSCHLOSS sites were often being put entirely out of action by a heavy use of WINDOW. A drain of personnel being transferred to the army was getting in the way of forming a clear picture of the situation in the air, and slowing down the passing on of information to the Party’s Gau headquarters (though this was less important compared to the operational needs). Implementing the concept of restructuring the aircraft warning service, ideal in itself, was besides meeting with fresh technical difficulties.


From left to right: military counterintelligence chief (SMERSH) Viktor Abakumov, NKGB Commissar Vsevolod Merkulov, and NKVD Commissar Lavrenty Beria.

During WWII the NKVD continued propaganda and coercion, which as before, went hand in hand. This leopard did not change its spots; terror did not abate during the war. Those who had lived under German occupation, or who had become prisoners of war and escaped, suffered the consequences of NKVD suspicion, and hundreds of thousands of them were arrested. The Soviet regime punished the families of deserters. A new phenomenon during the war was the punishment of entire nations: the Volga Germans were deported immediately at the outbreak of the war. In 1943 and 1944 it was the turn of the Crimean Tatars and Muslim minorities of the Caucasus: deported to Central Asia, they lived in the most inhuman conditions. The new element in this terror was its naked racism. Every member belonging to a certain minority group was punished, regardless of class status, past behavior, or achievements. Communist party secretaries were deported as well as artists, peasants, and workers.

Despite the arrests, the number of prisoners in camps declined during the war. This happened partly because inmates were sent to the front in punishment battalions, where they fought in the most dangerous sections. The morale and heroism of these battalions were impressive: most of the soldiers did not survive. The camps were also depopulated by the extraordinary death rates: approximately a quarter of the inmates died every year. People died because of mistreatment, overwork, and undernourishment.

In wartime nothing is more important than maintaining the morale and loyalty of the armed forces. In addressing this need the Soviet Union learned from decades of experience. At first, the regime reverted to the dual command system it had developed during a previous time of crisis, the civil war. From the regimental level up, political appointees supervised regular officers. They were responsible for the loyalty of the officers and at the same time directed the political education system. The abandonment of united command, however, harmed military efficiency; once the most dangerous first year had passed, the Stalinist leadership reestablished united command. This did not mean that the political officers had no further role to play. The network of commissars, supervised by the chief political administration of the army, survived. The commissars carried out propaganda among the troops: they organized lectures, discussed the daily press with the soldiers, and participated in organizing agitational trains that brought films and theater productions to the front.

Yet another network within the army functioned to assure the loyalty of the troops – the network of security officers. Although these men wore military uniforms, they were entirely independent of the high command and reported directly to the NKVD. According to contemporary reports, these security officers were greatly disliked by regular officers.

The principal Soviet foreign intelligence service, the Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennykh Del was headed in Moscow by Lavrenti Beria and operated across the globe through legal and illegal rezidenturas, run by the head of foreign intelligence, Pavel Fitin, which were heavily dependent on local Communist parties for support and sources. Considered the sword and the shield of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the NKVD concentrated on the acquisition of technology and industrial processes before the war, but later concentrated on political intelligence and atomic data.

NKVD rezidenturas were usually concealed in either diplomatic or trade missions headed by a resident, who supervised a team of subordinates that managed networks of agents, either directly or through intermediaries. Their operations were directed in detail from Moscow, as was learned subsequently from the study of the relevant VENONA traffic, which revealed aspects of NKVD wartime agent management in Mexico City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York, London, and Stockholm. Evidently the NKVD’s ability to function in western Europe following the Nazi repudiation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in June 1941 was severely handicapped, leaving the Soviets devoid of legal rezidenturas in Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, The Hague, Oslo, Rome, Prague, Bern, Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Warsaw, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, and possibly Madrid and Lisbon, too. This placed a heavy burden on the rezidenturas in London, Ottawa, Mexico City, Stockholm, the three in the United States, and eventually Buenos Aires when a rezident was posted there in 1944.

In London, the NKVD declared a rezident, Ivan Chichayev, to his hosts for liaison purposes, but in reality continued to conduct local intelligence-gathering operations through numerous agents, among them Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Leo Long, and Anthony Blunt, who penetrated various branches of British intelligence under the direction of the undeclared rezident, Anatoli Gorsky. In addition, Melita Norwood, Klaus Fuchs, and Allan Nunn May passed information to the NKVD from inside the British atomic weapons development program.

In Ottawa, the NKVD rezident, Vitali Pavlov, ran few independent operations, because the local Communist Party had been embraced by his GRU counterpart, Nikolai Zabotin. In Mexico, Lev Vasilevsky ran the embassy rezidentura under the alias Lev Tarasov and was largely dependent on Spanish Republican refugees. In Stockholm, the rezidentura was headed by a Mrs. Yartseva and then Vasili Razin, and it concentrated on the development of local political figures.

Gorsky (code-named VADIM, alias Anatoli Gromov) was appointed rezident in Washington, D.C., in September 1944, a post he held until December the following year, when he was transferred to Buenos Aires. In March 1945, the New York rezident, Stepan Apresyan, was posted to San Francisco, a rezidentura that had been opened in December 1941 by Grigori M. Kheifets (code-named CHARON), with a subrezidentura in Los Angeles. Kheifets was recalled to Moscow in January 1945 and replaced by Grigori P. Kasparov (code-named GIFT). Apresyan’s replacement in New York was Pavel Fedosimov (code-named STEPAN). Together, these NKVD officers ran more than 200 spies, of whom 115 were later identified as U.S. citizens with a further 100 undetected.

On the Eastern Front, the NKVD gained a ruthless reputation for capturing enemy agents and managing entire networks of double agents, often at the expense of having to sacrifice authentic information to enhance the standing of their deception campaigns. In the 18 months up to September 1943, the NKVD turned 80 captured enemy agents equipped with wireless transmitters, and by the end of hostilities, it had run 185 double agents with radios.

NKVD Security Forces

NKVD Security Forces Aside from combat units of the Red Army, Soviet state security forces fielded a large number of combat units during the war. In 1941 the NKVD was responsible for the Border Troops who patrolled along the frontier, and these look a very active part in the initial fighting of June 1941. The war also saw a major expansion in the NKVD Internal Troops. These units were organised like rifle or cavalry divisions and were intended to maintain internal order in the Soviet Union. At the beginning of the war the NKVD formed 15 rifle divisions. At times of crisis, these units were committed to the front like regular rifle divisions. Indeed, the NKVD formed some of them into Special Purpose (Spetsnaz) Armies, and one of these was used during the breakthroughs in the Crimea. However, this was not their primary role. They were intended to stiffen the resistance of the Red Army, and during major operations were often formed into ‘blocking detachments’ which collected stragglers and prevented retreats. Their other role was to hunt out anti-Soviet partisan groups, and to carry out punitive expeditions against ethnic groups suspected of collaborating with the Germans. The NKVD special troops were expanded in the final years of the war, eventually totalling 53 divisions and 28 brigades, not counting the Border Troops. This was equal to about a tenth of the total number of regular Red Army rifle divisions. These units were used in the prolonged partisan wars in the Ukraine and the Baltic republics which lasted until the early 1950s. They were also involved in the wholesale deportations of suspected ethnic groups in 1943-45. In some respects, the NKVD formations resembled the German Waffen-SS in terms of independence from the normal military structure. However, the NKVD troops were used mainly for internal security and repression, and were not heavily enough armed for front-line combat. Unlike the Waffen-SS, they had no major armoured or mechanised formations.