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.

Intell War in the Wings

Italy entered the war on June 10, 1940, not to hasten, but to benefit from France’s collapse. Mussolini came in with Hitler’s reluctant permission. The Fuehrer was confident that, whatever mischief Il Duce could perpetrate, it would not materially affect the outcome. He recalled an impudent quip of World War I attributed to General von Falkenhayn. When, in 1915, the Kaiser was told that Italy planned to switch sides, von Falkenhayn assured the sovereign that it would not make any difference. “You see, your Majesty,” he said, “if they’re against us, we need ten divisions to beat them. If they’re on our side, we’ll still need ten divisions to help them.”

Sure enough, by the following spring Mussolini came to regard every day, when nothing unpleasant befell his forces, as a day won. May 24, 1941, appeared to be such a day. On the Pincio, the trees abandoned themselves to the balmy caresses of a glorious Roman spring. On the elegant Via Condotti, the smart ladies of Roman society paraded; nothing in their finery betrayed the austerity of a country at war. But on that day a seemingly insignificant event occurred which was destined to have a special impact on the future of Mussolini’s Italy. Admiral Franco Maugeri became director of the S.I.S., the Italian Office of Naval Intelligence.

Not yet 46 years old, Maugeri was a slight, slender figure with prematurely gray hair and keen gray eyes; he had an informal manner and was innately modest. He was an intellectual, well bred, well read, and had a preference for desk jobs, because he was inordinately susceptible to seasickness and sunburn. He had previously served in S.I.S. between 1927 and 1929. At that time, S.I.S. was an extremely small agency; its entire staff consisted of ten officers and twenty enlisted men. It maintained not a single secret agent, either at home or abroad. Its job was to collate the periodic reports of the Italian Naval Attachés and to perform the other routine duties of desk-bound intelligence.

During those years, there was an extremely intimate relationship between the Italian and British navies. When the Italian Navy was originally built up before the First World War, it was designed to fight alongside the British Navy as an auxiliary force. Many Italian naval officers became imbued with this tradition and continued to regard themselves, even when their country had drifted apart from Britain, as honorary officers of the Royal Navy. Admiral Maugeri, a determined anti-Fascist, was a member of this pro-British group. When he became director of S.I.S., it became a clandestine British agency at the very heart of the Italian military establishment, for all practical purposes functioning as the Italian branch of the British Naval Intelligence. This clandestine function was never regarded as improper or treasonable, either by Maugeri or his subordinates. On the contrary, they were firmly convinced that by aiding Britain in their own way they were saving Italy from total extinction.

When Maugeri returned to S.I.S. in 1941, it had changed radically. It consisted of three major regional organizations, with headquarters in Madrid, Istanbul and Shanghai (each under the respective Italian Naval Attachés) ; and four functional sections bearing the letters B, C, D and E. Section B was the efficient “black chamber,” monitoring foreign radio traffic and translating the codes and ciphers of others. Section D was the intelligence service proper. The material that B and D procured was fed to Section C which collated and evaluated it. Section E was exclusively counter-intelligence and counter-espionage.

Heading Section D was Commander Max Ponzo. He was short, squat and sturdy, built like a miniature bull. He had a swarthy complexion and nervous, darting eyes which gave him a shifty, sinister expression. He was brilliant and resourceful, courageous and aggressive. By the strength of his personality, Ponzo dominated the whole S.I.S.

Before Maugeri’s arrival, Ponzo had set up an intelligence and espionage network such as S.I.S. had never before possessed. He established several tight rings in neutral countries like Switzerland, Spain, Turkey and Portugal. He even established a minor ring in the United States. One of the room service waiters in the Wardman-Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., where Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State Cordell Hull lived, was a Ponzo spy.

While considerable information flowed from his networks abroad, the best material was procured right at home. Ponzo concentrated his efforts in Rome on the American Naval Attaché, probably on the assumption that Americans, being very much like Italians, outgoing and trusting, loquacious and boastful, would make easy targets for his snoopers.

Between 1939 and 1941, Captain Thomas C. Kinkaid, USN, was American Naval Attaché in Rome. He was a gallant officer of the line, who was destined to make a great name for himself in later years. There was, however, a serious loophole in his office. The department was badly understaffed and because Washington could not send him United States personnel, Kinkaid was compelled to hire a few Italians.

At least one of those employees worked for Ponzo. He was a fairly highly-placed clerk and had occasional access to the safe. He managed to make a duplicate key to it and from then on, until the United States entered the war, S.I.S. knew the exact contents of that American safe.

Early in 1941, Kinkaid was recalled and Captain Lester N. McNair, USN, replaced him. McNair decided, undoubtedly upon instructions from Washington, to hire a few spies. Freelance espionage was a favorite pastime of certain Italian ladies, and among them McNair found an attractive and charming young woman who appeared to be a splendid candidate.

She was Signorina Elena (her last name is covered by charitable anonymity). She was sufficiently well situated in Roman society to develop some useful sources and was of a romantic disposition, generous with her affections when the occasion required.

Elena found herself in something of a dilemma; she really did not know how and where to pick up the information Captain McNair expected. She solved the problem in the traditional manner by becoming a double agent. She called Ponzo, exposed herself as an American spy and volunteered to keep Ponzo posted about the affairs of the Americans and to pass on to McNair whatever information Ponzo wanted to slip into American files. The arrangement satisfied all concerned, including Captain McNair, who never found out about Elena’s double deal.

On December 11, 1941, Italy declared war on the United States and this made Elena vastly more valuable since she was virtually the only spy the U.S. Navy had left in Rome.

Before his departure, McNair arranged that the young lady was to send her material to Colonel Barwell R. Legge, the American Military Attaché at Berne, Switzerland. With Ponzo continuing to manage this minor but stimulating phase of American espionage, arrangements were made for a courier from Legge to call at Elena’s apartment on Lungotevere to pick up her information. Ponzo made his own arrangements to observe the visitor; he was anxious to find out who else was working for Legge in Rome.

Agents of S.I.S. were posted around the building and Elena was instructed to signal the arrival of her visitor by displaying a quaint assortment of laundry. If the courier was a man, she was to put a bathing suit in her window; if the visitor turned out to be a woman, she was to hang out a towel.

Ponzo’s agents did not have to wait long. In due course, a dainty bathing suit appeared in the window. An hour later a man came out of the building and Ponzo’s agents followed him along the broad, tree-lined avenue on the left bank of the Tiber, until they saw him meet a warrant officer they knew was working for Major Pontini’s Section E in S.I.S., the counter-espionage branch. They saw the two shake hands, enter a waiting car and drive away in apparently the most cordial manner.

The Ponzo agents, sent to trap a single American spy, had encountered two! And—horribile dictu—one of them was a trusted carabinieri of Major Pontini. They reported the discovery to Ponzo and Ponzo in turn tipped off the major. Pontini received the news with a burst of laughter.

“My dear Max,” he said, “that enemy agent whom you’ve been following so cleverly—he’s no more an enemy agent than you are. He’s one of my own officers. The Americans in Switzerland hired him to work for them and at a good, fat price, too ! Ah,” he sighed with mild contempt, “che stupidità americana!”

Such are the vagaries of espionage when it ambles into war from haphazard peacetime beginnings.

It took some time for American Intelligence to get adjusted to the challenge of war. It was different with British Intelligence.

Ponzo was sending a steady flow of excellent intelligence to the Italian Navy about the movements of British ships in the Mediterranean. As soon as a British vessel passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, either entering or leaving the Mediterranean, a signal advised the fleet of it. In Algeciras, the Spanish city bordering on Gibraltar, the Italian Consul was a member of Ponzo’s espionage ring. He lived in the Hotel Reina Cristina, whose owner was in sympathy with Italy and allowed him to build an observatory on the roof. It had powerful telescopes, long-range binoculars on firm tripods, chronometers, and cameras with telescopic lenses. In a room of the hotel, the consul had a clandestine transmitter on which he reported his observations to Rome every few hours. In this manner, Ponzo was told almost immediately when a British ship passed through the Straits.

That dazzling espionage coup at Algeciras was what could be called elaborate eyewash, the way S.I.S. had of giving the impression that it was in the war against the British up to its neck. Nobody seemed to notice that virtually the entire S.I.S. effort vis-à-vis the British was confined to this operation. It escaped attention that Ponzo was as conspicuous for his absence in London, for example, as he was conspicuous for his presence in Algeciras. During a visit to Rome, Admiral Canaris boasted to Count Ciano about his splendid spy net in Britain, claiming that one of his spies was sending to Hamburg up to ten signals a day. (It was actually the British carillon.) Ciano had to concede that Italy had nothing comparable to that. The S.I.S. had nothing at all in Britain. Still more remarkable was the fact that Commander Ponzo had not done to the British what he had so brilliantly done to the Americans. He neither ensnarled them with double agents nor relieved them of their secrets with aggressive espionage.

Admiral Maugeri made a startling statement after the war. “Actually,” he wrote, “I doubt that there were many British spies in Italy. There really was no need for them. The British Admiralty had plenty of friends among our high-ranking admirals and in the Ministry of Marine itself. I suspect the English were able to get authentic information straight from the source.” What he omitted to say was that his own S.I.S. did much of the necessary spadework for British Intelligence.

On a colorful old Roman street named after the dark little stores which lined it, the via delle Botteghe Oscure, dwelt a remarkable individual, and Max Ponzo lived under his spell. He was one of Italy’s most prominent barristers, Giovanni Serao, a man of dizzying brilliance. He was short and heavy set, but an extremely agile man, with a luxuriant beard. His eloquence was unique even for Italy. His clients included some of the country’s noblest houses and greatest corporations and a string of big foreign firms such as Paramount Pictures and the Canadian Pacific Railway as well. For many years, Signor Serao served as the legal adviser of the British Embassy in Rome and performed so effectively in that capacity that he was knighted for his services to the Crown. He was the only Roman entitled to hear himself addressed as Sir Giovanni, and he relished the title.

Serao was Ponzo’s father-in-law, and more than that, the idol of his son-in-law. Serao himself gave the British all sorts of confidential information, which he procured in the course of his practice; thanks to his intimacy with Ponzo, he could also supply military and naval intelligence of the highest order. For all practical purposes, Giovanni Serao was the clandestine chief of the British Secret Service in Rome.

Before Franco Maugeri’s arrival in S.I.S., Ponzo’s contribution had to be limited by sheer necessity. His superiors were no parties to the plot. He had to operate on his own. Serao’s Embassy connections were broken at the outbreak of the war. Serao and Ponzo had to confine their services to limited intelligence which they slipped to the British as best they could, mainly through a surreptitious contact with the British Legation that remained at the Vatican. Even this was of great value.

The British had an accurate appreciation of the Italian fleet and refused to regard it as a mortal threat to Britain’s control of the sea, but its nuisance value was recognized. There was some apprehension, in particular, about the forty-odd submarines owned by the Italians, which could have wrought havoc with British shipping in the Mediterranean if properly employed. Naval Intelligence succeeded in acquiring the special code used by the Italian submariners.

An ingenious officer on Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham’s staff hit upon a fantastic idea. Devising signals in the Italian code, and impersonating the Italian command, he would dispatch an Italian submarine to a certain spot in the Mediterranean to attack supposed Allied merchantmen. When the hapless submarine arrived at the spot, it was met by British destroyers waiting to send it to its doom.

In this manner, the British decimated Mussolini’s submarine arm. The operation would have continued most probably to its inevitable conclusion had it not been for an accident. The British ordered a certain Italian submarine to one of those spots where the destroyers were waiting, but that particular sub happened at the time to be in drydock at La Spezia.

The blunder alerted the Italians and ended the game, but severe damage had already been done.

Rommel was hammering the British mercilessly in Africa, and he was being supplied by shipping across the Mediterranean. The conspiracy inside the S.I.S. became of essential importance. On March 25, 1941, mysterious information alerted Admiral Cunningham to an ominous stirring of the Italian Fleet. Some of its major elements, led by the battleship Vittorio Veneto, were supposed to move in the direction of the Aegean to draw off elements of the British Fleet from the route of those Italo-German convoys. That obscure message resulted in a great British naval victory on March 28, in the memorable Battle of Cape Matapan. In Churchill’s words, “This timely and welcome victory off Cape Matapan disposed of all challenge to British naval mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean at this critical time.”

By the beginning of April, the steady flow of intelligence enabled the British to intensify attacks on the shipping which had to feed Rommel’s forces in Libya on a substantial scale. So effective was this surreptitious co-operation that Commander Malcolm Wanklyn in the submarine Upholder could win the Victoria Cross for his apparently uncanny ability to track down and sink German supply ships. An outstanding victory was scored in April, when a task force of four destroyers was guided to a large convoy. In this one action, fourteen thousand tons of enemy shipping, fully loaded with war materials for Rommel, was destroyed.

As time passed, Ponzo developed better communications with the British. A sympathetic S.I.S. agent in Berne became a pipeline to British Intelligence there. And still later the British managed to plant a clandestine radio transmitter in Rome. Now Ponzo needed a go-between to take information to the operator. His eye fell on the Countess Montarini, an Englishwoman by birth, married to an Italian nobleman, the mother-in-law of a gallant young lieutenant of the Italian Navy. She worked as the direttrice of Elizabeth Arden’s beauty salon.

Each morning, on her way to the shop, the Countess stopped at the church of the Trinità dei Monti for a brief prayer. Leaving, she would stop in front of the church to look down to the elongated Piazza di Spagna below, at the bottom of a flight of steps, inhaling the beauty of the sight.

At this famous Piazza, Rome is at its best. In the center of the square stands Bernini’s fountain, La Barcaccia. It was made in the shape of a barque of war, spouting water from its marble cannons. Leading down to it is the Scala di Spagna, a flight of one hundred and thirty-eight steps.

When the Countess Montarini descended the grand staircase, she might pass a young man who stood on one of the steps. There would be nothing unusual, apparently, in this chance encounter, but, in fact, it was an ingeniously devised means of communication. The step on which the young man waited for the passing of the signora had a special significance. Each of the one hundred and thirty-eight steps meant a specific, separate message according to an elaborate system of codes. Each step had a different meaning when counted from the top or the bottom. Additional messages were passed on by having members of the ring do something specific on individual steps, such as lighting a cigarette, blowing a nose or cupping a hand over an eye.

The Countess was not only a transmission belt; she also gathered much useful information on her own. The Arden Beauty Salon was patronized by many of the most influential women of Rome, including the wives, daughters, and mistresses of Axis diplomats and officers. They gossiped freely while having their hair done, their faces mudpacked, and their nails manicured.

The Countess hired operators who could be trusted and taught them how to listen to the conversations of their celebrated clients and how to pose loaded questions without making them even slightly suspicious. Frequently the mention of a name would start the ball rolling. An operator once reported to the Countess that one of her clients had told her she wanted to be especially attractive since she was to have a reunion with her husband she had not seen for more than a year. She was the wife of a general assigned to the African front. From this pebble of information it was possible to develop the intelligence that the general’s recall had ushered in a complete reorganization of the Italian command structure in Libya.

Meanwhile, in Africa, Rommel went on to his greatest triumphs. He reached his peak in the summer of 1942 when he defeated the Eighth Army between Gazala and Tobruk, and then chased what was left of it almost to Cairo.

The British managed to halt his advance at El Alamein. In August, however, Rommel returned to the offensive, only to be finally checked this time. He could not go beyond El Alamein and saw his chances of conquering Egypt go up in the sand dust of the Western Desert.

There were several factors that robbed him of ultimate glory: the British utilized the interval he had granted them to shake up their high command, to send General Sir Bernard Montgomery to lead the Eighth Army, and to give him adequate reinforcements. But fully as important as what Monty received was what Rommel did not get: reinforcements and supplies via Italy and especially that confounded “shprit”—his word for gasoline.

Marshal Kesselring was sending all the fuel that Rommel was asking for, but somehow only a fraction of what left Italy ever arrived in Africa. As Liddell Hart put it, the Desert Fox was “vitally crippled by the submarine sinkings of the petrol tankers crossing the Mediterranean.”

The Germans were sure there was a leak. A special detachment of the usually infallible Funkabwehr, the Abwehr’s radio monitoring service, was brought to Italy to search for outgoing messages. They failed to find a single suspicious signal. Another special detachment, this one from Abwehr III (counter-espionage) was sent into Italy, and, in close co-operation with the brave carabinieri of Section E of the S.I.S., they instituted a manhunt for the presumed spies. The source of the leak was never found. The leak itself was never plugged.

What actually happened was simplicity itself. Since wars cannot be conducted in silence, the Italians had to advise their African command about these convoys. Their routing was radioed to Africa in a naval code that nobody expected the enemy to break. But someone at the Italian end had slipped the key of that sacrosanct code to the British and also advised them promptly whenever the code was changed.

Rommel was effectively deprived of his “shprit.” In the words of Captain Liddell Hart: “That decided the issue, and once the enemy began to collapse at their extreme forward point they were not capable of any serious stand until they had reached the western end of Libya, more than a thousand miles back.”

Ponzo’s operation continued until the Italian Armistice in September, 1943. When the Germans occupied Rome, the city became too hot for him; and he was needed in Taranto, to the south, where the Italian Navy was being resurrected to a new life in a new war, this time to do exactly what most of its flag officers wanted, to fight against the Germans.

On October 10th, Max Ponzo sneaked out of Rome. Disguised as a straggler, he succeeded in making his way to Taranto where he was received with open arms. The morning after his arrival, he was named chief of the reconstituted Italian Naval Intelligence, with the wholehearted approval of the Allies.

The situation in Rome remained in excellent hands. Admiral Maugeri disappeared underground and became one of the chiefs of the resistance organization inside the Eternal City.

Countess Montarini’s position became untenable. She could no longer maintain her masquerade. Her son-in-law, the naval lieutenant who was himself on the periphery of the ring, escaped to the Allies at the first opportunity, and that tipped off the Germans to the mother-in-law’s true sentiments. With the help of friends, she vanished from sight, although she never left Rome. She disappeared into the vast palace complex of Prince Colonna, where she remained in hiding until that June day of 1944, when at long last Rome was liberated by the Allies.

Intelligence Post WWII Part I

Argentinian Invasion of the Falklands

Military operations have changed greatly since the end of the Second World War, most of all because the development of nuclear weapons has effectively prevented the major states from fighting the sort of full-scale struggles for decision which are the subject of this book. Big wars are now too dangerous for big countries to fight. That does not mean that the world has become a safer place for the common man. On the contrary. It is estimated that armed conflict since 1945 has killed fifty million people, as many as died in the Second World War. Most of the victims, however, have perished in small-scale, random struggles, many scarcely to be dignified even by the name of civil war. In the last fifty years it is not the methods or weapons of 1939—45 that have harvested the major proportion of violent deaths – aerial bombardment or battles between great tank armies or the relentless grind of infantry attrition – but skirmish and all too often massacre with cheap small arms.

Even in such few major wars as have been fought, there have been few large-scale conventional battles and their number has tended to decline over time. Thus, while the Korean war of 1950–3 was almost exclusively a conflict of infantry and tank armies, and the Arab–Israeli wars of 1956–73 likewise, the biggest war of all, in Vietnam, was a protracted counter-insurgency struggle, marked by the clash of armies scarcely at all. Though the Iran–Iraq war of 1980–8 saw much heavy fighting, Iran’s lack of heavy equipment and use of under age conscripts in suicide attacks made it an unequal contest bearing little resemblance to other wars of the twentieth century. In 1991 Iraq was forced to abandon its illegal occupation of Kuwait as a result of defeat in one major tank battle; but its army, more concerned to surrender than to stand its ground, cannot really be said to have given battle at all. The same can be said of its performance in the 2nd Gulf War of 2003, in which intelligence played an important role in the targeting early on of the Iraq leadership.

That episode apart, the post-war military record yields few examples of outcomes being influenced by operational intelligence of the sort assessed in the previous chapters. Intelligence services have never been busier than they are in the nuclear world and consume more money than has ever before been spent. By far the greater proportion both of effort and funds is devoted, however, to early warning and to listening, continuous processes, intended to sustain security, not to achieve success in specific or short-term circumstances. The elaborate infrastructure of early warning – radar stations, underwater sensors, space satellite systems, radio interception towers – is enormously expensive to build, maintain and operate and so are its mobile auxiliaries, particularly airborne surveillance squadrons. The intelligence material thus collected, categorised by professionals as sigint (signals intelligence), overlapping with comint (communications intelligence) and elint (electronic intelligence), requires processing and interpretation by thousands of analysts and computer technicians. What they do and what they achieve is rarely published. The public anyhow seems indifferent to what is unquestionably the most significant sector of contemporary intelligence activity. Understandably, the complexities of intelligence technique must baffle even highly educated laymen. Only the most specialist of experts can hope to comprehend what intelligence agencies now do. It is possible, with application, for the interested general reader to follow descriptions of how the Enigma machine worked and of how the problems it presented to cryptanalysts were overcome. Modern ciphers, created through the application of enormous prime numbers to language, belong in the realm of the highest mathematics and are alleged to defy attack even by the most powerful computers yet built.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the intelligence world attracts attention only when there is a breach of security, typically in recent years by the ‘defection in place’ of an intelligence operative who yields to greed or lust or exhibits defects of character not identified at the time of recruitment. There has been a steady trickle of such scandals, long post-dating the sensational unmasking of the ‘Cambridge’ spies in Britain and affecting the American and Soviet services which were presumed to have been warned against such occurrences in their own ranks by the ‘Third’ and ‘Fifth’ Man episodes.

Public interest is also engaged by accounts of the effect of human intelligence, humint, on recent or current military operations, where such effect can be shown. Humint has unquestionably played a major part in Israel’s successful efforts to hold at bay its Arab neighbours in four major wars, much minor conflict and its continuous struggle for security, for the ingathering of Jews from neighbouring lands allowed its intelligence services to recruit patriotic operatives who spoke Arabic bilingually and were able to pass as natives in their countries of former residence. It is understandable that the successes of Israeli humint remain almost completely secret. During the Vietnam War the American CIA conducted a large-scale campaign of destabilisation against the Viet Cong, largely by the targeted assassination of Viet Cong leaders in the South Vietnamese villages. Operation Phoenix remains unacknowledged; the Vietnam War was eventually lost; it would nevertheless be illuminating to know what effect Phoenix had on its conduct.

The only conventional military conflict of recent times for which a reasonably complete picture of the influence of intelligence on operations is available in all or most of its complexity – signit, elint, comint, humint and photographic or imaging intelligence – is the Falklands War of 1982, between Britain and Argentina. Rights of sovereignty over the Atlantic islands of the Falklands or Malvinas, which include such Antarctic outliers as South Georgia, Graham Land and the South Shetland, Orkney and Sandwich groups, has been disputed between Britain and Argentina since the nineteenth century. The small Falklands population is exclusively British (the other territories are effectively uninhabited) but it is a universal and deeply held belief in Argentina that the lands are theirs. Argentina has a troubled political history. Once a country of great wealth, which attracted to it over the last century large numbers of immigrants, including poor Italians seeking a better life outside Europe and an English minority who came to supply its commercial and professional class, Argentina suffered serious economic decline in the mid-twentieth century. Discontent brought to power a populist Peronist regime, so called after Colonel Juan Peron, its leader. Peronist mismanagement provoked a military coup in the 1970s. When the military junta itself became unpopular, it decided to restore its fortunes by reviving the claim to the Falklands. Recovering the Malvinas was a cause around which all Argentinians could unite.

Britain was long used to Argentina’s Falklands demands. It did not take their revival in 1981–2 very seriously. Negotiations proceeded at the United Nations in New York: they were not marked by urgency and the British found the Argentinians in reasonable mood. Unknown to Britain, however, the junta, led by General Leopoldo Galtieri, had already decided to mount an invasion at latest by the October of 1982, when it was calculated that the only Royal Naval ship on station, the ice patrol vessel Endurance, long scheduled for retirement, would have been withdrawn. As late as March 1982, no military preparations had been made and no diplomatic crisis appeared to impend. Then what seems a chance factor altered the tempo. An Argentinian scrap reclamation party arrived at Leith in South Georgia, the Falklands dependency, declaring it was there to dismantle an old whaling station. The scrap men raised the Argentinian flag but failed to seek permission for their work from the local station of the British Antarctic Survey, the government authority. When visited, they hauled down the flag but did not regularise their presence. Constantino Davidoff, their leader, denied then and afterwards that he was sponsored by the Argentinian navy but he is believed to have had a meeting with naval officers before landing. Once he was ashore, the British Foreign Office felt it had to act; the Ministry of Defence was more reluctant, since it regarded operations 8,000 miles from home as beyond its capabilities. Under Foreign Office pressure, a case was made to the Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, who ordered Endurance, with a party of marines from Port Stanley, the Falklands capital, to sail for South Georgia and to await orders.

The unexpected despatch of Endurance perturbed the junta. If the scrap men were removed, Argentinian prestige would be damaged; but the presence of Endurance challenged it to military action, which it did not plan to take for several months. The Argentinians havered, first sending a naval ship to take off most of the scrap men, then sending another with a party of Argentinian marines to ‘protect’ those left. It was the turn of the British government to dither. It sought guidance from its own and the American intelligence services as to what Argentina intended. The signs were unclear. Budgetary economies had run down the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) station in Buenos Aires; what signal information could be supplied by Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and by its sister signals organisation, the National Security Agency (NSA), did not clarify the picture. The British agencies enjoyed a warm and co-operative relationship with the American, based on much exchange of mutually useful material; but the CIA depended on MI6 for human intelligence, while both GCHQ and the NSA were confused by the volume of radio traffic suddenly generated in the South Atlantic by Argentinian but also Chilean vessels; the two navies were conducting a large-scale but routine exercise.

Britain fell into a week-long bout of indecision; it had decided it could not tolerate any further Argentinian intervention in the affairs of its South Atlantic dependencies; but it shrank from any overt measure that would provoke Argentina to action. Eventually, the decision was taken out of its hands. On 26 March, the junta, under pressure from street demonstrations against its economic austerity programme, but even more fearful of public reaction if it appeared to back down before British diplomatic protest over the South Georgia affair, decided to advance the timetable for its invasion of the Falklands and launch the operation at once.

The Falklands were effectively undefended. Of their population of 1,800, 120 of the men belonged to the Falklands Islands Defence Force, but they were untrained and equipped only with small arms. An official British military presence was provided by Naval Party 8901, a detachment of forty Royal Marines; their number had recently been doubled by the arrival of their reliefs. Apart from Endurance, currently in Antarctica, there were no naval ships in the Southern Hemisphere. The Argentine armada, which began to land at dawn on 2 April, could not therefore be repelled, though it was briefly opposed. Naval Party 8901, depleted by the despatch of twelve men to reinforce South Georgia, was ordered by the governor, Sir Rex Hunt, who had been warned by London that an invasion force was at sea, to guard the airfield and the harbour. When an advance party of 150 Argentinian commandos landed, they were engaged and, in a firefight around Government House, two were killed. It was clear to Sir Rex Hunt, however, that resistance was hopeless and, after two hours, he ordered surrender. Soon afterwards the vanguard of 12,000 Argentinian troops began to land, while the Argentinian air force took control of the airfield.

The news caused an immediate and major political crisis in London. The second of April was a Friday; an emergency session of parliament, which never sits at the weekend, was called for the following day. The consensus at Westminster was that, if the government could not demonstrate its willingness and ability to confront the Argentinians, it would have to resign. Fortunately for Mrs Thatcher, a woman of iron will but untried powers of decision, she had already instituted precautionary measures. Alerted by the enormous volume of radio traffic generated by Argentinian preparations, she had ordered a submarine to sail for the South Atlantic on the previous Monday, 29 March. Much more important, indeed, as was to prove critically for the whole Falklands saga, she had on Wednesday evening ordered that a naval and military task force should be assembled to depart at once for the South Atlantic. Her desire to recapture the Falklands was never in doubt; the impetus to the decision was supplied by the arrival in her room in the House of Commons when she was consulting her ministers of the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, who gave it as his professional opinion that Britain had the power to mount such an operation and that the navy could set out by the coming weekend. He also assured the Prime Minister of victory. On return to his office he sent a signal, ‘The task force is to be made ready and sailed.’

Its first elements departed on Monday 5 April, while its military complement was hastily assembled in Britain to follow. Three submarines, two nuclear-powered, one diesel, formed the spearhead; there were to follow, over the course of the weeks to come, 2 aircraft carriers, embarking 20 Harrier aircraft and 23 helicopters, 23 destroyers and frigates, 2 amphibious ships, 6 landing ships, 75 transports, ranging in size from large passenger liners to trawlers, and 21 tankers. The majority of the transports and tankers were ‘taken up from trade’, chartered or requisitioned, that is, from the merchant service.

The troops to be embarked would eventually comprise the whole of 3 Commando Brigade (40, 42, and 45 Commando, Royal Marines, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery and 59 Commando Squadron Royal Engineers), attached to which were 2nd and 3rd Battalions The Parachute Regiment, two troops of light armoured vehicles of the Blues and Royals, thirteen air defence troops, the commando logistic regiment and the brigade’s helicopter squadron. There was also a large complement of Special Forces, including three sections of the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) and two squadrons of the Special Air Service (SAS). To follow later was 5 Infantry Brigade (2nd Scots Guards, 1st Welsh Guards and 1st/7th Gurkha Rifles) with some artillery and helicopters. The Royal Air Force deployed elements of seventeen squadrons, flying fighters, bombers, helicopters, reconnaissance aircraft and air refuelling tankers.

Refuelling, in the air and at sea, was an essential requirement, for the task force was to operate without a land base nearer than Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic. Until the airfield at Port Stanley could be recaptured, air refuelling was less vital, for long flights over the ocean could not be numerous. All fuel, and other supplies to the warships, however, had to be transferred ship-to-ship while under way.

The assembly of the task force was a race against time, not only because of the need to confront the Argentinians with an armed response as rapidly as possible but also because of the season; the onset of the South Atlantic winter at the end of June would bring sub-Arctic weather necessitating withdrawal from the region. Everything, from completing dockyard maintenance to supplying the soldiers with warm clothing, had to be done at the highest speed; at the outset it seemed that many requirements could not be met.

It was not only the pace of material preparation that had to be forced; so too did that of planning and intelligence gathering. The two were intimately connected and interdependent. Britain had no base in the region and no allies. Chile, long on bad terms with its Argentinian neighbour, was disposed to be helpful but could not risk openly siding with Britain; most other South American countries supported Argentina’s claim to the Falklands, if only out of regional solidarity. How was the campaign to be fought? Clearly there must be an amphibious landing but it would have to be launched from the task force’s ships, not from land. That required the navy to close up to the islands, at least while the troops got ashore, but also to remain nearby during daylight so that the carrier aircraft could provide support. Worryingly the islands, though 400 miles from the nearest stretch of Argentinian coast, were just not far enough offshore to lie outside the range of the enemy’s land-based aircraft. The troops, once landed, would be vulnerable to air attack. Far more worryingly, the warships and transports would also be at risk, except when at night they could stand off to the east into the broad expanse of the ocean.

How serious was the risk? That proved, both at the outset of the campaign and during its development, an embarrassingly difficult question to answer. No one in Britain really knew; no one, indeed, knew anything much that was useful about Argentina’s armed forces. For reasons of economy, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) had closed down all but one of its stations in South America; that remaining was in Buenos Aires but its chief was too overworked to collect anything but political intelligence. The service attachés, navy, army and air, were supposed to report on their Argentinian opposite numbers; but in recent years they were more often required to act as salesmen for the British defence industries, so the excuse went afterwards; in practice, attaché appointments were final postings at the end of a middling officer’s career, a farewell present for an unexceptionable life. This was not particular to Argentina but the general rule; only those officers posted to the Soviet Union had the duty of acquiring intelligence and were fitted by ability and training to do so.

Yet the collection of pertinent information in any reasonably open society, which Argentina was, is not difficult and need not conflict with diplomatic propriety. Readily available service magazines contain valuable snippets of information which, if collated, quickly yield an order of battle; so do local newspapers, from stories about local men in uniform and the social affairs of locally stationed units. Service histories are also fruitful sources; units tend to occupy the same barracks for decades. Armies, and navies, are relatively unchanging organisations and, to anyone who takes the trouble to form a picture of their organisation, rarely conceal secrets about their location, strength or function requiring specialised intelligence scrutiny to uncover.

The archives of the Defence Intelligence Service in London ought, in short, to have contained copious and detailed reports on the Argentinian navy, army and air force in April 1982. They did not. The cupboard was almost bare. The officers of the task force have in consequence left a record of a shaming and hurried search in public libraries for such standard works as Jane’s Fighting Ships and the Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance. Little was to be found. The Military Balance allots no more than two or three pages to a country the size of Argentina; Jane’s Fighting Ships is largely a photographic album. Moreover, as the most important of Argentina’s warships, the carrier Veinticinco de Mayo, was the ex-British HMS Venerable, venerable indeed since launched in 1943, and three of its largest destroyers were British-built or designed, Jane’s could tell little the British did not know already. The marines and soldiers scanning the Military Balance must have been even more disheartened. It lists the barest information of numbers of units and quantities of equipment and those in separate sections; no picture of units’ capabilities is discernible, therefore, while units are not named nor are their peacetime locations specified. That omission may have been seriously misleading in the frenzied days of early April 1982. The Argentinian army’s three best formations were the VI, VIII and XI Mountain Brigades (Peron, incidentally, was a mountain infantry officer), which, by reason of their training and familiarity with cold climate, seemed the obvious choice for Falklands duty. Because of the junta’s fear that Chile might profit from their commitment to the Falklands to strengthen its position in the disputed Cape Horn region, however, it had left the mountain brigades in their peacetime stations and decided to employ lower-grade formations drawn from the warm borders of Uruguay. GCHQ is known to have been intercepting the mountain brigades’ radio traffic, confirming that they were still located in the far south even as the invasion fleet put to sea. The task force officers, apparently dependent wholly on scantily published information about the location and capability of their potential opponents, did not even know that.

The navy was quite as badly informed. Admiral Sandy Woodward, commanding the warships and transports aboard the old carrier Hermes, had a general picture of the risk he faced. It consisted of three elements: attack by land-based Argentinian aircraft, some of which were equipped to launch Exocet, the French-supplied sea-skimming missile (also aboard some of Woodward’s ships), which was difficult to distract by electronic counter-measure and deadly if it struck home; the Argentinian surface fleet, known from radio intercepts to be at sea and organised in two groups formed respectively around the Veinticinco de Mayo and the ex-American heavy cruiser Belgrano, apparently deployed to mount a pincer movement; and Argentinian submarines. The diesel-propelled submarines were known to be difficult to detect but, it was believed, could be held at bay by the British nuclear submarines in the area; the surface fleet had been warned not to enter an ‘exclusion zone’ proclaimed around the islands by Britain and would be attacked if it did (it did not but was attacked anyhow, by HM Submarine Conqueror, and Belgrano sunk); it was hoped to overcome the Exocet threat by positioning destroyers and frigates as radar pickets between the islands and Argentina to provide early warning and to distract any missiles that got through by firing ‘chaff’, which simulated a larger target than the threatened ship.

In practice the two Argentinian diesel submarines did not manage to attack the task force; the surface fleet, partially incapacitated by equipment failure aboard the Veinticinco de Mayo, turned back from the exclusion zone and returned to port after the sinking of the Belgrano. The Exocet aircraft, by contrast, inflicted heavy damage on the task force and, with others delivering more conventional ordnance, came close to achieving a naval victory that would have secured the Falklands and humiliated Britain for decades to come.

The Argentinian air-launched Exocet, a modified version of the maritime model, known as the AM-39, was mounted on a Super Etendard aircraft, supplied by France, like the missile itself. The British believed correctly that Argentina had only five AM-39s, but wrongly that it had only one Super Etendard; the right number was five. As important as the aircraft–missile combination was the maritime reconnaissance aircraft that alerted the Super Etendards at their Rio Grande base to the presence of the task force within attack range. An antiquated American aeroplane, the SP-2H Neptune, it possessed the capability to linger beyond the horizon formed by the earth’s curvature but to keep the British under radar surveillance by bobbing up over it at regular intervals. The Super Etendards, when vectored towards the target, flew at sea level, beneath British radar, until close enough for the Exocet to strike. The pilots needed to gain altitude only once or twice, and then briefly, for their own radars to acquire their targets and automatically programme the missiles to depart in the correct direction. Once launched the Exocet maintained height just above sea level by an on-board altimeter and finally homed on the target ship down the beam of its own radar.

Admiral Woodward and his staff had been wrongly informed that the Super Etendards’ range was only 425 miles, too short to reach the task force east of the islands. In fact, by refuelling from one of Argentina’s two KC-130 tankers, they could achieve launch positions. On 4 May, two days after the sinking of the Belgrano, two Super Etendards, flying from Rio Grande, approached the task force; their directing Neptune had been spotted by British radar but was thought to be searching for Belgrano survivors. Glasgow and Coventry, deployed as radar pickets west of the task force, caught echoes of the attacking aircraft as they rose above the horizon to correct their final approach paths. The British ships fired chaff and both Exocets, travelling only six feet above the sea, were deflected by their own course-corrections. Sheffield, twenty miles distant, was currently transmitting on its radio link to satellite, which prevented its hearing the warnings transmitted by its sister ships or operating its own radar. Its crew were therefore oblivious of impending danger and neither fired chaff nor manoeuvred. She was hit in the forward engine room by one of the Exocets which, though its warhead failed to explode, started a fire that eventually forced her abandonment, after heavy loss of life.

The manifestation of the Exocet threat was to exert a decisive effect both on the management of the campaign and on the intelligence effort that underlay it. Admiral Woodward at once withdrew the task force far to the east of the islands, where it was to remain until the landings began on 21 May. At the same time the Northwood joint services headquarters, from which Operation Corporate, as the campaign was code-named, was directed, began a frenzied search for means to improve intelligence collection and to strike directly at the Argentinian air menace. Of signal intelligence there was no shortage; the Argentinian army, navy and air force generated a large volume of traffic, which was intercepted not only by GCHQ, through its intercept station at Two Boats on Ascension Island, ostensibly a branch of the Cable and Wireless Company, but by the NSA, the American intelligence community having decided to lend its British partners full support at this time of need, and by a New Zealand intercept station at Waiouru. The United States was also generous with satellite intelligence. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) had three systems in operation that could together provide electronic and imaging data, White Cloud, KH-8 and KH-11; it could also offer data from occasional overflights by the SR-71 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

The limitation on the usefulness of overhead surveillance was, first, its intermittence – White Cloud made only two passes a day – but, second, that by the time it became available, the damage had been done. Overhead surveillance could have warned of the Argentinian invasion fleet setting sail, in time for the British government to have issued an ultimatum; once the fleet had arrived, it could supply little further information that was useful.

It was, among other factors, for that reason that the Northwood headquarters decided, after the shock of the first Exocet attack, to move from passive to active counter-intelligence methods. Since traditional means of warning – including satellite intelligence – had failed to avert the threat, the Ministry of Defence would be ordered to mount operations to eliminate the risk at source. Britain’s special forces would be committed to find and destroy the Exocet units in their home bases.

Intelligence Post WWII Part II

Milan – RAID SAS – Darwin Settlement. Painting by Daniel Bechennec.
Visit Daniel’s Website for some fantastic Paintings

Special forces are a distinctively British contribution to contemporary military capability. They have their origin in Winston Churchill’s directive of July 1940 to ‘set Europe ablaze’, the immediate outcome of which was the creation of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Churchill’s belief, ill-conceived though it proved to be, was that covert attacks by irregular forces within the territory of German-occupied Europe could undermine Britain’s enemy from within. He envisaged the work being done by local patriots, armed and advised by British agents. Churchill’s scheme, though it did much to restore the national pride of Europe’s defeated peoples, did little to weaken Nazi power. His conception of forming irregular units had an indirect result, however, that was permanently to alter the way in which states use military force. Fertilised by the idea of SOE, the British army’s thinking in the middle period of the Second World War turned towards the creation of its own irregular forces, trained and equipped to operate inside enemy territory. The first such units, organised at Churchill’s direct order, became the commandos, raiding forces to be landed from the sea; they had their airborne equivalent in the Parachute Regiment, which was trained and equipped to descend from aircraft behind enemy lines.

The SOE, commando and Parachute Regiment ideas coalesced to inspire free-thinking officers of the British forces in the Middle East during 1940–2 with a conception of their own: that instead of seeking to recruit civilians to fight as irregular soldiers, they should turn professionals into irregulars. The outcome was a coterie of unconventional units, the Long Range Desert Group, Popski’s Private Army, the Levant Schooner Squadron, the Special Air Service. When the war came to an end, most were disbanded to survive only as romantic memories. The Special Air Service (SAS) found a different destiny. It had had a very successful war, attacking airfields in apparently quiet sectors of the desert and pinpoint targets in continental Europe; though stood down in 1946, it was revived – as the Malayan Scouts – to conduct covert operations against Communist terrorists in the Malayan jungle in 1948 and thereafter accumulated many other functions. By the 1980s it had become the instrument with which the army, often acting as the agent of the government, conducted covert operations against terrorists and organised criminals inside and outside the United Kingdom; it also acted as the irregular arm of the regular forces in conventional operations. Quite small – its intensely selective recruitment process limited its numbers to about 400 – its effectiveness was out of all proportion to its numerical strength.

One of the functions at which it excelled was undercover observation. SAS troopers learnt how to penetrate a landscape and disappear inside it, ‘lying up’ in ‘hides’ for days at a time, surviving in great discomfort to bring back eye-witness accounts of enemy locations and activities. Northwood headquarters decided at the outset of Operation Corporate that, because of the paucity of intelligence derived from signal interception and overhead surveillance, it would be essential to insert SAS parties to watch and report. Those missions would shortly be enlarged to include direct attack on exposed enemy positions identified as offering critical threats to the success of the expedition.

One was decided upon at the outset. The Argentinian presence on South Georgia, though it lay 800 miles from the Falklands group, was seen as an affront; it was also soon perceived as presenting an opportunity. During the long preparatory period, as the task force moved south in stages during March and April, the government felt increasingly under pressure to allay public anxiety with news of success. The recapture of South Georgia would satisfy the requirement. A mixed party of Royal Marines and SAS was therefore embarked on HMS Antrim and detached to the objective. In extreme weather conditions and with inadequate equipment, the party eventually got ashore, having narrowly avoided disaster in the process, and completed their mission between 21–24 April. The Argentinian servicemen, who had replaced the scrap dealers, gave up easily. The marines and SAS suffered no casualties, though many had been close to death by mishap several times.

Following the South Georgia foray, the SAS, with its Royal Marines equivalent, the Special Boat Squadron (now Service), was committed directly to preliminary operations in the Falklands; at a later stage it also took a full operational part in the fighting and attempted a number of still mysterious penetrations of the Argentinian mainland, intended to give early warning of Argentinian air strikes but also to intercept them by surprise attack.

The first major special forces mission was launched against the Falklands group in early May. Six Special Boat Squadron (SBS) teams and seven four-man SAS patrols were landed by helicopter from the fleet, the SBS tasked particularly to choose landing beaches, the SAS to gather intelligence of Argentinian deployments. One SAS patrol lay up at Bluff Cove, eventually to be chosen as a subsidiary landing place on the west coast of East Falkland, the main island, one at Darwin, near San Carlos, the initial and main landing place, three overlooking Port Stanley, the island capital on East Falkland, three on the barely inhabited West Falkland. It was there that the SAS drew first blood. On 14 May forty-five men of D Squadron, who had been guided to their destination by a patrol inserted three days earlier, landed by helicopter to strike at the airstrip on Pebble Island where the Argentinian air force had based eleven Pucara ground-attack aircraft, guarded by a hundred men. The SAS troopers were accompanied by forward observers from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery to direct the fire of frigates offshore. Under the bombardment the SAS laid demolition charges which destroyed all the enemy aircraft and withdrew without loss, leaving an Argentinian officer dead and two of his men wounded.

Two independent actions by special forces followed, one on 21 May, the day of the main landing in San Carlos Water, to seize Fanning Head, which overlooked the approach, and during 25–27 May to secure look-out positions on Mount Kent, dominating Port Stanley. Both were completely successful. The Argentinians at Fanning Head were driven off by the SBS which, in the period before the main landing, also sent patrols to Campa Menta Bay, Eagle Hill, Johnson’s Harbour, San Carlos and Port San Carlos. On 20 May an SAS patrol had also struck a serious blow at Argentinian ability to position troops against the bridgehead, when it was secured, by finding an enemy helicopter park and destroying the four Chinooks and Pumas waiting there. The two units, 22 SAS and the SBS, continued to be involved in operations on the islands after the landings until the Argentinian surrender on 14 June.

After 4 May, however, when Sheffield was sunk by Exocet, the main thought of those controlling special forces was to use them in some way that would provide early warning of Exocet raids or eliminate the Super Etendards which delivered them. In either case landings on the Argentinian mainland would be required. The insertion of an SAS surveillance team was attempted by helicopter against the base at Rio Grande on the night of 17–18 May; its mission was to assess the state of the defences and then retire undetected into Chilean territory, where preparations had been made to receive it. As the helicopter landed the pilot decided that his aircraft had been detected and that he must make an escape to Chile. After a hurried flight westward, he dropped his SAS passengers to proceed on foot across the border, then landed inside Chilean territory and set fire to his machine. He and his two crew were subsequently repatriated, having unconvincingly explained their presence in Chilean airspace with the excuse that they had got lost. The SAS invaders were discovered by an undercover liaison agent, taken to Santiago and hidden there until the war was over.

The second element of the scheme to eliminate the Super Etendards at Rio Grande failed because those detailed for the mission became convinced that it would end in disaster. The plan required three troops, forty-five men, to be crash-landed onto the runway in Hercules C-130 aircraft, overcome the defenders, destroy the Super Etendards, kill the pilots, whom it was hoped to trap in their quarters, and then march at high speed across country to neutral Chile. The diplomacy of the operation was dubious; so was its practicality. The soldiers’ confidence was not enhanced by the discovery that the only maps of the region available dated from 1939 or had been photocopied from The Times Atlas. At their last briefing before departure from England, two highly experienced sergeants announced that they wished to remain behind, apparently an unprecedented event in SAS history. In the face of their doubts, the senior officer felt obliged to cancel the operation and stand the other soldiers down. Some felt the dissenters should have been dismissed; others accepted that they had reason on their side.

The planners’ reasons for preparing the operation, at the extreme limit of risk though it was known to be, was demonstrated on 25 May when two Super Etendards, refuelled north of the islands, approached the fleet from an unexpected direction and launched Exocets. One was distracted by chaff and fell into the sea, the second, attracted by the huge bulk of the container ship Atlantic Conveyor, struck home. Conveyor caught fire and sank, taking with it much vital heavy equipment, including three large Chinook troop-carrying helicopters, and ten Wessex, which were intended to lift the infantry forward towards Port Stanley. Their loss condemned the infantry to walk, thus seriously setting back the final stage of the ground campaign.

After the attack on Conveyor, however, only one Exocet remained to the Argentinians. Moreover, in fierce battles between the task force and the enemy’s conventionally armed air units between 21 and 23 May, twenty-three enemy aircraft had been destroyed, taking Argentinian losses to one-third of their available strength. The Argentinian pilots had fought throughout the campaign with great courage and unexpected skill but the air battles over San Carlos Water had effectively defeated them. They were to achieve one more spectacular success, at Bluff Cove on 8 June, but by then the British ground forces were positioned on the high ground surrounding Port Stanley, whose Argentinian garrison was already showing its readiness to surrender.

There is some suggestion, unverified and unconfirmed, that the task force’s ability to defend itself against air attack was reinforced during May by the insertion of another, undetected SAS surveillance mission on the Argentinian mainland and by the positioning offshore of nuclear submarines as pickets. Certainly the full picture of the nature of the British early-warning system during the three weeks, 21 May–14 June, of the phase of intense fighting has not been disclosed. It cannot have succeeded by luck alone, for the air cover available was scanty, only 36 Harriers before losses, while the fleet’s missile defences were patchy. The remarkable total of losses inflicted on the Argentinians, including 31 Skyhawks and 26 Mirages, speaks of a more systematic warning achievement than chance would allow.

The task force suffered two grave intelligence defeats, both attributable to failures at the human level. During the subsidiary campaign to recapture South Georgia, a succession of attempts to extract an SAS party from a position made untenable by ferocious Arctic weather was only saved from disaster when a third helicopter succeeded, against every probability, in rescuing both the party and the crews of the two helicopters which had crashed in previous attempts to rescue it. The mission had been undertaken only because an army officer with exploring experience on South Georgia had assured the planners that the original mission was feasible; the episode provided an awful warning that expert information can be as flawed as any other form of intelligence. The second failure was more serious; early in the campaign a Sea Harrier from Invincible was shot down in an attack on the Pucara base in West Falklands (4 May); on the pilot’s body an Argentinian intelligence officer found his briefing notes, which when deciphered revealed the position from which the fleet was operating east of the Falklands. Until then it had been able to hide from the enemy in the wastes of the ocean, while keeping close enough to fight what was hoped would be a successful struggle to achieve air superiority over the islands. After 4 May, also the date when Sheffield was sunk by Exocet, Admiral Woodward was forced to withdraw the fleet beyond Argentinian aircraft range, and to approach the islands only when absolutely necessary.

The British had gone to war in the belief that their show of force would bring about an Argentinian withdrawal by diplomatic negotiation. After the sinking of Sheffield and the loss of the first Sea Harrier they were obliged to recognise that the conflict was real; once the troops landed on 21 May optimism grew that resistance would collapse, as the Argentinian conscripts were overcome by the superior fighting power of the British regulars. It was during the first three weeks of the campaign that the issue hung in the balance. An intelligence coup by the Argentinians, allowing them to strike one of the British carriers or a big troop-carrying ship, Canberra or QEII, with an Exocet might have shifted it their way. As it was, without access to American satellite or signal intelligence, which the British enjoyed, and with inadequate intelligence resources of their own, the Argentinians had to operate by guess and chance. Neither sufficed.

The last large war of the twentieth century, that in the Gulf against Iraq by the American-led coalition, was conducted within an intelligence environment far more favourable to the intervening force than that conditioning the Falklands War nine years earlier. The coalition was served with, besides copious and continuous sigint, frequent overflying missions, yielding high-resolution photography and much electronic and sensory data, as well as satellite surveillance in all its forms. Because the Iraqis had deployed their forces beyond their own borders, in Kuwaiti territory, the coalition also had access to plentiful and exact cartography of the operational area; the combatants made no complaints at all about the quantity or quality of strategic intelligence available to them.

The acquisition of tactical intelligence in real time proved much less satisfactory. Because the Iraqi air force took refuge at an early stage in Iran, there was no need for early warning of air attack. What was required was warning of the launch of Iraqi Scud missiles, aimed at coalition forces, their Saudi bases and the territory of Israel; even more desirable was information about the Scud launchers’ whereabouts. Early warning worked well, allowing the destruction of Scuds in flight on several occasions. Location of the launchers – a variant of the Meillerwagen that had made the V-2s so difficult to attack in 1944–5 – proved effectively impossible. Despite the insertion of numbers of special forces teams into Iraqi territory, no Scud launcher was found and none destroyed. Iraqi ability to hide and protect its weapons of highest value from detection by both external and internal intelligence-gathering means underlay the international crisis that began in 2002 and persists at the time of writing.

Saddam Hussein’s defiance of the authority of the United Nations, by his refusal to co-operate with its weapons inspectors as required under Resolution 1441 of the Security Council, exemplifies the difficulties of obtaining intelligence about modern weapons systems even under conditions amounting to those of authorised espionage. The inspectors, though present in considerable numbers – at least a hundred – on Iraqi territory, and ostensibly enjoying unfettered freedom of movement and access, were consistently frustrated, as late as March 2003, in their efforts to uncover stocks of chemical and biological warfare materials which they had good reason to believe had not been destroyed, as was required by UN resolution, and remained hidden at a number of locations. The search for the components of nuclear warheads, which it was also strongly believed Saddam was attempting to construct, proved equally unavailing. The senior weapons inspector, Dr Hans Blix, complained that he and his team were unable to fulfil their task – to report that Iraq had fully complied with the provisions of Resolution 1441 – because they were refused full co-operation by the Iraqi authorities, particularly the freedom to interrogate in private Iraqi scientists known to be working on the weapons programme. Neither Dr Blix nor Western anti-war protestors, who demanded more time for the inspectors to continue, seem to have made any allowance for the possibility that the objects of their search were so well concealed that whatever the apparent co-operation furnished by the Iraqis and however long investigations were protracted, his mission was bound to fail. The situation was unprecedented. A potential international lawbreaker had been obliged to open his borders to officially sponsored investigators of his suspected wrongdoing and yet they remained unable to dispel the uncertainties surrounding his intentions and capabilities. In absolutely optimum conditions, in short, intelligence had failed.

Intelligence operations in the parallel ‘war against terror’ were equally frustrated, though for different reasons. The ‘war’ was misnamed, for it was so one-sided as to deprive the opponents of terrorism of any of the usual means by which one party to a conflict normally exerts pressure on the other. Al-Qaeda, the movement which had taken control of and given leadership to the diffuse forces of Islamic fundamentalist terror, has, though it means ‘the base’ in Arabic, no identifiable base and, after the defeat of the Taleban in Afghanistan at the beginning of 2002, no territory. It is outlawed in many Muslim states, where autocratic governments fear the threat it offers, through accusations of their less than perfect adherence to the fundamentalists’ conception of Islam, to established authority. The size and composition of its membership is unknown, as is the identity of its leadership, a few self-declared but elusive figureheads apart, and the structure of its command system, if one exists; it is a strength of al-Qaeda that it appears to be a coalition of like-minded but separate groups rather than a monolithic entity. Its finances, though it is known to possess large monetary resources, are mysterious, since it apparently conducts transactions by informal but secure word-of-mouth agreements traditional within Muslim societies. It does not possess large armouries of conspicuous weapons, preferring to improvise – as by its hijacking of civilian airliners on 11 September 2001 – or to make use of readily concealed means of terrorist outrage, such as plastic explosive. Like all post-1945 terrorist organisations, it appears to have learnt a great deal from the operations of the Western states’ special forces during the Second World War, such as SOE and OSS, which developed and diffused most of the modern techniques of secret warfare among the resistance groups of German-occupied Europe during 1940–4; the copious literature of secret warfare against the Nazis provides the textbooks. Among the techniques described is resistance to interrogation by captured operatives, which often failed against the Gestapo, since it was prepared to use torture, but succeeds against today’s Western counter-terrorist organisations, culturally indisposed to employ torture and anyhow inhibited from so doing by domestic and international law. Despite the arrest and detention of hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives, reports suggest that they have successfully overcome American efforts to break down their resistance to questioning.

The only point of penetration into the world of al-Qaeda appears to have been found in its necessity to communicate. Intercommunication, as this book suggests, has almost always proved the weak link in undercover systems, whatever the methods used to make it secure. Al-Qaeda has apparently thus far trusted to the difficulty presented to Western monitoring organisations by the sheer volume of mobile and satellite telephone transmissions, seemingly hoping that its person-to-person messages will be lost among the daily billions of others. It has, fortunately, proved a false hope. Modern methods of scanning and point-targeting of transmissions allow the Western interception agencies to isolate and overhear an increasingly large number of significant messages and so to identify suspects and locate where they operate.

In the last resort, however, attacks on the al-Qaeda and other fundamentalist networks will only be made successful by recourse to the oldest of all intelligence methods, direct and personal counter-espionage. Brave individuals, fluent in difficult languages and able to pass as native members of other cultures, will have to befriend and win acceptance by their own societies’ enemies. It is a technique perfected by the Israelis, whose intelligence agencies enjoy the advantage of being able to recruit agents among refugees from ancient Jewish communities in Arab lands, colloquial in the speech of the countries from which they have fled but completely loyal to the state in which they have found a new home. Western states will find such recruitment more difficult. Islam imposes a powerful bond over fellow believers; even Muslim immigrants of the second or third generation, loyal to their Western countries of adoption in every other way, feel a strong aversion to what seems betrayal of co-religionists by reporting them to the authorities for religious zealotry. The problem of recruitment is acute in the United States, which lacks both Muslim communities of large size or antiquity and non-Muslim citizens with a knowledge of the appropriate languages. It may prove easier in the old imperial countries, such as Britain and France, whose intelligence agencies, particularly the British, actually have their roots in the nineteenth-century need to police their colonial dissidents and which retain a significant residue of language and other ethnographic skills.

A strange task confronts them. It diverges widely from that of Bletchley and OP-20-G, which required the highest intellectual power and rigorous dedication to the routines of radio monitoring, interception and decipherment. The masters of the new counter-intelligence will not resemble the academics and chess champions of the Enigma epic in any way at all. They will not be intellectuals nor will they overcome their opponents by power of reason or gifts of mathematical analysis. On the contrary: it will be qualities of empathy and dissimulation that will equip them to identify, penetrate and win acceptance by the target groups. Their work will resemble that of undercover police agents who attempt to become trusted members of criminal gangs, with all the dangers and moral compromises that such a life requires. Undercover work within the terrorist groups of Northern Ireland, republican and loyalist alike, has equipped British security and specialist police bodies to understand how such undercover operations are best conducted, but the practice is always more difficult than theory and will prove particularly so with religious fanatics. Even ideological terrorists, such as the extreme nationalists of the Irish republican tradition, are sometimes susceptible to temptation or threat; republican fund-raising by blackmail and extortion has drawn the movement into crime, with corrupting effect, while its ‘military’ ethos excludes the taking of risks that threaten the lives of ‘volunteers’. Muslim puritans, by contrast, seem resistant to financial temptation, have demonstrated their readiness to commit suicide in furtherance of their violent aims, are committed to a code of total silence under interrogation and are bound by ties of brotherhood which have religious strength. No organisation, of course, is impervious to penetration or is indestructible. All have their weak spots and weak members. It may, however, take decades for Western intelligence agencies to learn how to break into the mysterious and alien organisations and even longer to marginalise and neutralise them.

The challenge will cast the agencies back on to methods which have come to appear outdated, even primitive, in the age of satellite surveillance and computer decryption. Kipling’s Kim, who has survived into modern times only as the delightful literary creation of a master novelist, may come to provide a model of the antifundamentalist agent, with his ability to shed his European identity and to pass convincingly as Muslim message-carrier, Hindu gallant and Buddhist holy man’s hanger-on, far superior to any holder of a PhD in higher mathematics. Buchan’s Scudder, sniffing from clue to clue along a trail leading from fur shop in Buda to the back streets of Paris, shedding and adopting new disguises on the way, seems better adapted to the future world of espionage than any graduate student in regional studies. It will be ironic if the literature of imagination supplies firmer suggestions as to how the war against terrorism should be fought than academic training courses in intelligence technique provide. Ironic but not unlikely. The secret world has always occupied a halfway house between fact and fiction, and has been peopled as much by dreamers and fantasists as by pragmatists and men of reason.

The Western powers may come to count themselves fortunate that, in their time of troubles during the two world wars, the central targets of intelligence-gathering, enemy communications and secret weapons were susceptible to attack by concrete methods: overhearing, decryption and visual surveillance, together with deception in kind. They have already learnt to regret the emergence of new intelligence targets that lack any concrete form: aggressive belief-systems not subject to central authority, shifting alliances of dangerous malcontents, stateless migrants disloyal to any country of settlement. It is from those backgrounds that the agents of anti-Western terrorism are recruited. Their recruiting grounds, moreover, are confusingly amorphous, disguised as they are within communities of recently arrived immigrants, many of them young men without family or documented identity, often illegal border-crossers, who take on protective colouring within the large groups of ‘paperless’ drifters merely seeking to avoid the attention of the authorities.

The United States, protected as it is by its wide oceanic frontiers and its strict and efficient border services, is certainly not impervious to terrorist penetration, as the awful events of 11 September 2001 demonstrated. The western European states, physically contiguous to countries which hundreds of thousands of young men energetically seek to leave and constrained by their own civil rights legislation from returning illegals to their jurisdictions of origin, even if the facts can be established, are much less well defended. The security problem by which the Western European states are confronted is not only without precedent in scale or intensity but defies containment. The suspect communities grow continuously in size, the nuclei of plotters and would-be evil-doers they conceal thereby acquiring greater anonymity and freedom to prepare outrages. Financial support is not a problem, since the terrorists enjoy access to funds extracted in their countries of origin by blackmail in many forms, including straightforward protection money but also donations represented as contributions to the cause of holy war. The ‘war on terrorism’ may be a misnomer, but it would be foolish to pretend that there is not an historic war between the ‘crusaders’, as Muslim fundamentalists characterise the countries which descend from the kingdoms of Western Christendom, and the Islamic world. It has taken many forms over more than a thousand years and fortunes in the conflict have ebbed and flowed. A century ago it appeared to have been settled for good in favour of the West, when the region’s technological superiority seemed to have reduced Islam to an irreformably backward and feeble condition. Allah, Muslims might say, is not mocked. Their certitude in the truth of their beliefs has driven those Muslims who see themselves as religious warriors to seek ways of waging holy war that outflank mere technology and promise to bring victory by the power of anti-materialist forces alone. Muslim fundamentalism is profoundly unintellectual; it is, by that token, opposed to everything the West understands by the idea of ‘intelligence’. The challenge to the West’s intelligence services is to find a way into the fundamentalist mind and to overcome it from within.