Historians have not only acknowledged these Allied successes but they’ve probably exaggerated their importance in the actual campaigns of the war.Unfortunately the work of the Axis codebreakers hasn’t received similar attention. As I’ve mentioned in my piece Acknowledging failures of crypto security all the participants suffered setbacks from weak/compromised codes and they all had some successes with enemy systems.
Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States did not have impenetrable codes. In the course of WWII all three suffered setbacks from their compromised communications.After having dealt with the United States and Britain it’s time to have a look at the Soviet Union and their worst failures.
Move along comrade, nothing to see hereCompromises of communications security are usually difficult to acknowledge by the countries that suffer them. For example since the 1970’s countless books have been written about the successes of Bletchley Park, yet detailed information on the German solution of Allied codes only started to become available in the 2000’s when TICOM reports and other relevant documents were released to the public archives by the US and UK authorities.
In Russia the compromise of their codes during WWII has not yet been officially acknowledged and the archives of the codebreaking organizations have remained closed to researchers. This is a continuation of the Soviet policy of secrecy.The Soviet Union was a secretive society and information was tightly controlled by the ruling elite. This means that history books avoided topics that embarrassed the regime and instead presented the officially sanctioned version of history. Soviet era histories of WWII avoided references to codes and ciphers and instead talked about ‘radio-electronic combat’ which dealt with direction finding, traffic analysis and jamming (1).
After the fall of the Soviet Union several important government archives were opened to researchers and this information has been incorporated in new books and studies of WWII. However similar advances haven’t taken place in the fields of signals intelligence and cryptologic history. Unlike the US and UK that have admitted at least some of their communications security failures the official line in Russia is that high level Soviet codes were unbreakable and only unimportant tactical codes could be read by the Germans. Even new books and studies on cryptology repeat these statements (2).However various sources such as the TICOM reports, the war diary of the German Army’s signal intelligence agency Inspectorate 7/VI and the monthly reports of the cryptanalytic centre in the East Horchleitstelle Ost clearly show that the Germans could solve even high level Soviet military and NKVD codes.