Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New NSA cryptologic histories released

Site governmentattic has uploaded two very interesting NSA cryptologic histories:

1). United States Cryptologic History, Sources in Cryptologic History, Volume 4, A Collection of Writings on Traffic Analysis, Vera R. Filby, Center For Cryptologic History,National Security Agency, 1993.
2). United States Cryptologic History, Special Series, Volume 6, It Wasn’t All Magic: The Early Struggle to Automate Cryptanalysis, 1930s – 1960s, Colin B. Burke, Center For Cryptologic History, National Security Agency, 2002.

The study on the use of cryptanalytic equipment has details on the use of IBM punch card machines for codebreaking work, US efforts to solve the Enigma cipher machine using statistical theory rather than the crib based approach of Bletchley Park, the Soviet cipher machines Coleridge, Longfellow and Albatross, Japanese cipher machines of WWII (Purple, Coral and Jade) etc
There is also an interesting story regarding the Japanese Navy and the US strip cipher .Apparently the Japanese were so impressed by the US strip system that they copied it and started using it in mid 1944.

In page 148 it says: ‘JN87’s device was quite like the American Navy's own strip cipher. The '87 had a plastic board holding strips that had alphabets printed on both sides. There was a stock of one hundred two-sided strips to choose from. Thirty at a time were placed in the board, with their particular vertical and horizontal arrangement set according to complex specifications given in a book of instructions.
This system became a major target of the American codebreakers and its solution required the development and introduction of special cryptanalytic equipment.

In page 149 it says: ‘Steinhardt's Gypsy was a get-the job- done machine. It was a large, 4,000-pound stepping-switch and plugboard combination that required a central control unit and five separate six-foot high bays. Each of the bays contained five large plugboards. Each board was hand-wired to represent four of the JN87 strips. Because the strips were two-sided, the Gypsy plugboards were constructed to represent eight choices.

It would be interesting if someone knowledgeable was able to compare the US methods of solution of the strip cipher and the equipment they built with the German techniques and their ‘Tower Clock’ machine.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Soviet codebreakers of WWII

WWII histories of signals intelligence and codebreaking are currently focused on the theatres where German and Japanese troops fought against the Anglo-Americans. The influence of ULTRA intelligence on the Battle of the Atlantic, the North Africa campaign, the Normandy invasion, the battle of Midway etc is mentioned not only in specialized books but also in the popular histories of the war.

On the other hand the Eastern Front is completely neglected in this aspect, despite the fact that millions of troops fought in countless battles and endured horrendous losses for several years in the largest land campaign in history.
Codebreaking and signals intelligence played a major role in the German war effort. We know that the Army had 3 signal intelligence regiments (KONA units) assigned to the three Army groups in the East (Army Group North, South and Centre). In addition from 1942 another one was added to monitor Partisan traffic. The Luftwaffe had similar units assigned to the 3 Air Fleets (Luftflotten) providing aerial support to the Army Groups.

Both the Army and the Luftwaffe also established central cryptanalytic departments (Horchleitstelle Ost and LN Regt 353) for the Eastern front in East Prussia. So as we can see the Germans certainly invested significant resources on sigint.
During the war this effort paid off. We know that the German codebreakers could solve Soviet low, mid and (for a time) high level cryptosystems. We also know that they intercepted the internal radio teletype network carrying economic and military traffic. Traffic analysis and direction finding also played a big role in identifying the Soviet order of battle.

Having looked at the German side we need to turn our attention to the Soviets. What were the successes of the Soviet side in this shadow war?
Unfortunately there is no clear answer to this question. The Soviet archives relating to signals intelligence are closed and information on codebreaking is hard to find and verify. This means that there are limited sources that a researcher can use and in some cases it will be necessary to resort to deductive reasoning.

Prewar developments
The Tsarist empire invested considerable resources in the field of secret intelligence and codebreaking. The agents of the feared Okhrana monitored revolutionaries and other enemies of the regime and its ‘Black Chamber’ (Cherniy Kabinet) could decode the telegrams of foreign ambassadors.

The new Soviet state took over some of these codebreakers and put them back to work. In 1921 the Spetsial'niy Otdel (Special Department) was created and it was housed in a building of the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs on Kuznetskiy Most Street, Moscow. In 1935 it was moved to the NKVD’s Lubyanka office complex. Security measures were draconian with the personnel being told not to reveal even the location of their offices to their relatives.
Head of the department from 1921-37 was Gleb Ivanovich Bokii, a loyal Bolshevik who had ruthlessly suppressed enemies of the Soviet state during the Russian civil war. His deputy was Major Pavel Khrisanfovich Kharkevich.

The Spetsodel initially employed many former Tsarist codebreakers who were assisted in their work by compromised cipher material provided by foreign spies. The Soviet foreign intelligence service was able to recruit personnel with access to cipher material in many countries during the 1920’s and 30’s.
During this period the Soviet codebreakers were able to exploit the codes of several foreign nations including Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, USA, Poland and many others. The main target was Japan due to the military incidents in the Far East between the Soviet forces and the Kwantung Army.

The Soviet codebreakers also took part in the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese war and the battle of Khalkhyn Gol.
Special operational groups of the Spetsodel were sent on these operations. A small group went to Spain in 1936 were it succeeded in reading the messages of Franco’s military forces and also of their spy network.

In early 1938 a group was sent to China to assist the Government forces of Chiang Kai-shek in their fight against Japan. In the course of the following months 10 Japanese tactical cryptosystems were solved.
In 1939 the codebreakers were able to assist General Zhukov in the battle of Khalkhyn Gol by reading the code used by the Kwantung Army.

The purges of the 1930’s
The many successes of the Special Department did not shield it from the purges of the 1930’s. During that period people from all aspects of Soviet society suffered from accusations of spying and sabotage and there were show trials and executions.

The purges crippled the cryptologic service since many of its workers were executed along with the top administrators. Bokii was executed in 1937 with most of the section heads and the Tsarist era personnel suffering the same fate.
These self inflicted wounds came at the worst possible time since in September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and thus started World War II.

The Great Patriotic war

In 1941 the crypto service was redesignated as the 5th Department of the NKVD under the efficient administrator Major Ivan Grigoryevich Shevelev.
The German invasion led to the rapid expansion of the department and Shenelev recruited some of the best mathematicians and technicians in the Soviet Union. According to Matt Aid ‘By the end of World War II, the 5th Directorate controlled the single largest concentration of mathematicians and linguists in the Soviet Union.

The Red Army also had its own signal intelligence and codebreaking department under the Chief Intelligence Directorate - GRU. In 1930 the GRU decryption department became part of the Spetsodel but was split off again in 1938.
In 1941 the radio intelligence service was the 8th department of the Intelligence Directorate of the Army General Staff. Head of the unit was Engineer 1st Rank I.N. Artem'ev. The GRU controlled special radio battalions called OSNAZ. At the start of the war there were 16 of these battalions.

How did the Soviet radio intelligence organizations perform during the war?

Period 1941-42
We know that in 1941 they were suffering from the loss of experienced personnel. It also seems that the numerous GRU radio battalions were primarily tasked with monitoring their own military forces for breaches of security and thus neglected to keep foreign units under close observation.

The German surprise attack caught the entire Soviet military in the process of mobilization and movement of units. The great defeats of 1941 led to the loss of equipment, cipher material and personnel. However it seems the Soviets were also able to win some important victories in the radio war.
In the autumn of 1941 a group led by NKVD cryptanalyst Sergei Tolstoy was able to solve the PURPLE cipher machine used by the Japanese Foreign Ministry. The decrypts showed that Japan would not attack the Soviet Union in support of the Germans. This information allowed the Soviet leadership to concentrate all available resources against Germany. Japanese diplomatic traffic continued to be read throughout the war and provided important insights into the political and military developments in Axis countries.

In the military front there is no indication that German cipher machines were solved cryptanalytically but in late 1941 the Soviets were able to capture Enigma machines and documentation of the German Second Army. The information obtained might have played a role in the Battle of Moscow.
Germany’s Allies were easier targets. According to a recent book on Russian cryptology the Army codebreakers were able to read messages exchanged between the Romanian high command and General Manstein in the Ukraine during the period 1941-42.

The Soviet Stalingrad offensive took advantage of the fact that the sides of the German front were held by Romanian and Hungarian troops. It is not unreasonable to assume that some of this information was acquired through signals intelligence. 
A report from the GRU to Stalin dated November 29, 1942 says that: ‘Direction finding of German army radio stations provided valuable information about enemy groupings, their activities and intentions….The cryptanalytic service of the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Red Army identified the main German and Japanese general military, police and diplomatic ciphers, including 75 systems of German intelligence. More than 220 keys to them, and more than 50,000 German messages were read…The research group of our office has revealed the possibility of solving German messages enciphered on the ‘‘Enigma’’ machine, and started to construct equipment, speeding up the solution.

The crypto systems mentioned must have been the hand ciphers used at low and mid level by the German military, police and Abwehr.
In 1942 there was a major reorganization of the NKVD and GRU radio intelligence services. The 5th department took control of the evaluation and distribution of Soviet crypto systems and also absorbed the GRU cryptanalysts.

The 8th department concentrated on traffic analysis and direction finding in order to reveal the order of battle of the German units.

Period 1943-45
In the second half of the war the German forces were in retreat and the Soviets liberated the occupied territories and ended the war by capturing Berlin. During this period the Soviet military had a significant numerical advantage in troops and equipment against the Germans. This makes it difficult to assess the importance of signals intelligence in the Soviet victories since many different factors were at play.

Still we do know that through direction finding and traffic analysis the Soviets were able to identify German formations and follow their movements. For example the article Spies, Ciphers and 'Zitadelle': Intelligence and the Battle of Kursk, 1943says : ‘a captured intelligence report of the Soviet 1st Tank Army dated 5 July 1943 revealed that radio intelligence had identified the positions of the headquarters and units of II SS Panzer Corps, 6th Panzer and 11th Panzer Divisions before the offensive began. Other captured documents disclosed that 7th Panzer Division, XIII Corps and Second Army headquarters had all been similarly ’fixed’ by Soviet radio intelligence.’

The Soviet codebreakers were definitely able to solve German hand ciphers and they must have captured Enigma machines and their keylists when they encircled German units (especially in the summer of ’44).
Help from abroad

The Soviets received assistance from two foreign sources. On the one hand the British occasionally shared some of the intelligence that they acquired by breaking German codes. The source was always camouflaged since the Brits did not want to reveal their cryptologic successes to the Soviet government.
Apart from general warnings about impending German actions the Brits also sent more detailed reports. In April ’43 they transmitted a report sent by General von Weichs to Foreign Armies East that revealed the main points of the German plan for the battle of Kursk. In October of the same year they informed the Soviet authorities about the Abwehr’s Klatt network.

Although the British authorities were careful to hide the source of their reports the Soviets already knew about Bletchley Park and the Enigma codebreaking through their spy network. During WWII Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt passed along information on Abwehr ciphers while John Cairncross was able to infiltrate Bletchley Park.
According to ‘The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives’, p218-9 in 1942 apart from decrypted messages Cairncross was able to get ‘two volumes of the secret training manual on deciphering, a guide for the reading of the German Enigma key codenamed TUNNY and a description of a machine constructed by the British to read the Luftwaffe's cipher traffic’.  Tunny must refer to the SZ42 teleprinter and not Enigma. The part about the machine used on the Luftwaffe cipher traffic could refer to the bombes but it is not clarified in the book.

The information provided by Cairncross could have allowed the Soviet codebreakers to overcome cipher research problems.

Working backwards
Since we do not have details on what systems the Soviets could exploit it might be best to work backwards. By looking at the cryptosystems used by the Germans we can check if their security was such that they would have resisted a well organized attack by a group of mathematicians and linguists.

Overview of Axis cryptosystems


The German military used cipher teleprinters of the SZ42, T52 and T43 types for top level communications, the Enigma machine from regiment upwards and various hand ciphers for frontline use.

Lorenz SZ42
The main radio-teletype machine used in the East was the Lorenz SZ42. This was quite a complex machine and regular solution required the use of very advanced cryptanalytic equipment. The Brits built the Colossus computer in order to decode this traffic. The Soviets were probably unable to build similar equipment but they could have decoded messages ‘in depth’ using hand methods. This was the standard practice at Bletchley Park prior to the introduction of high speed cryptanalytic equipment.

At this time there is no information on Soviet analysis of German teleprinters.

The plugboard Enigma was used by the German Army, Navy and Airforce as their main cipher system. Throughout the war its security was upgraded with new procedures and modifications. Could the Soviets have decoded Enigma traffic like Bletchley Park?

The GRU 1942 report says ‘The research group of our office has revealed the possibility of solving German messages enciphered on the ‘‘Enigma’’ machine, and started to construct equipment, speeding up the solution’. However there is no mention of actually decoding traffic.
This possibility was examined by Geoff Jukes in a series of articles in the 1980’s. However both his articles were based on inferential evidence and the responses by MilnerBarry and Ralph Erskine effectively countered Juke’s arguments.

David Kahn who interviewed KGB General Nicolai Andreev (head of the KGB’s sigint department in the 1970-80's) in 1996 was told that the Soviets knew how to solve the Enigma and although they didn’t have bombesit might have been possible to organize people to replicate the mechanisms work’. From Andreev’s statement it is not clear if this was actually done with real traffic.
The Soviets definitely captured intact Enigma machines and valid keylists during the war. Using them they would have been able to decode older traffic. However there is no indication so far that they were able to recover the settings cryptanalytically. 

On the contrary the recent article ‘О ВКЛАДЕ СОВЕТСКИХ КРИПТОГРАФОВ В ПОБЕДУ ПОД МОСКВОЙ’, says that in late 1942 the Soviet codebreakers analyzed the Enigma cipher machine and developed ways of solving it. However their efforts failed in January 1943 due to German security measures.

This information seems to be confirmed by the war diary of the German Army’s Inspectorate 7/VI. The March 1943 report of Referat 13 (security of German cipher machines) says that based on the published radio dispatches from Stalingrad Inspectorate 7/VI was asked to give an opinion from the point of view of decipherment.


Auf grund der veröffentlichten Funksprüche asus Stalingrad wurde In 7/VI um ein allgemeines Gutachten gebeten, das die Stellungnahme vom Standpunkt der Entzifferung enthält.

Thus it seems that the Soviet effort to decrypt Enigma messages was identified early and countered by the Germans.

Such a failure could be attributed to several factors:

1). They started their analysis of the Enigma late in the war and thus could not exploit the insecure signaling procedures of the period up to May 1940. In the period 1942-45 the Germans introduced many new security measures that would have made a solution much more difficult than in 1939-40 when Bletchley Park made its start.
2). Most of the Enigma traffic in the East would be from Army units that traditionally had a higher level of security than their Airforce counterparts. Army traffic routinely caused problems for Bletchley Park, despite their large number of ‘bombes’.

Hand ciphers
The German army used hand ciphers at division level and below. For most of the war the main systems were double Playfair and 3-letter field codes.

The double Playfair- Doppelkastenverfahren was a modification of the well known Playfair cipher but instead of one square it used two. The text was broken up into digraphs and they were enciphered using the two alphabet squares. According to Dr Fricke, a German cryptologist who evaluated the security of Army systems, up to 1942 the digraphs were enciphered only once but from that point on they were enciphered twice. A report by Allied personnel who worked on this system says that ‘Each German division had its own set of cipher boxes. It was assigned six different boxes for each day. These were paired in different combinations for each day's eight three hour periods. In effect, there were eight keys per day.
The army also used 3-letter codes. Initially these were used unreciphered but from 1942 they were enciphered with daily changing trigraphic substitution tables.

Both these systems had limited security. It is probably safe to assume that this traffic was regularly solved by the Soviets and gave them tactical intelligence and OOB data. However their success with military hand ciphers could not have lasted for the entire war.
In 1944 the double Playfair was replaced with the Rasterschlüssel 44, a transposition system using a stencil. The RS 44 had impressive security for a hand cipher and confounded the analysts of Bletchley Park. The Soviet codebreakers must have been similarly annoyed that the double Playfair was replaced by such a secure cipher.

Radio procedures

According to German personnel the radio procedures of their units (callsigns, indicator groups) were insecure and thus simply through traffic analysis and direction finding the Soviets were able to identify enemy units and concentrate their attacks at their flanks.

Intelligence services

The military intelligence service Abwehr infiltrated spies in the Soviet rear areas through WALLI I, a unit controlled by Major Hermann Baun. The ciphers used by the Abwehr in the field were mostly transposition systems. The codebreaker of Bletchley Park were able to solve Abwehr ciphers throughout the war. There is no reason why these simple systems would resist solution by the Soviets. The GRU report specifically mentions the Abwehr traffic: ‘….including 75 systems of German intelligence.’
Additional information on Abwehr ciphers was provided by the Cambridge spy ring.

Central Abwehr stations also used a small number of Enigma G machines. The G (Counter) version did not have a plugboard since its security laid in the irregular stepping system of the wheels. Bletchley Park was able to solve this machine in late 1941 and the traffic was regularly read. There is no indication that the Enigma G was solved by the Soviets, although it would be theoretically possible (for example by using reencodements from hand ciphers).

In one case we definitely know that the Soviets exploited the communications of the Abwehr. In Sofia, Bulgaria the Klatt bureau gathered intelligence from sources that were supposedly working inside the Soviet Union. The traffic of the Sofia station was intercepted by the Brits who found the information valuable. Through their spies inside British intelligence the Soviets learned of the Klatt bureau and started intercepting the Vienna-Sofia traffic from autumn 1941. According to ‘The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives’, p197 the Soviet codebreakers were able to solve the cipher in July 1942 and found it to be ‘a letter cipher of a comparatively simple system’. The same source says that the traffic on the Sofia-Budapest link was also decoded.
The intelligence service of the SS – Sicherheitsdienst recruited POW’s and after a brief period of training and indoctrination sent them to the Soviet rear on espionage and sabotage missions. This operation was called ‘Zeppelin’ and it was clearly a numbers game. The Germans did not expect their agents to survive for long. The SD probably used several different cryptosystems, however just like the Abwehr it seems that the most widely used one was double transposition. Considering the limited training afforded to the ‘Zeppelin’ agents it is probably safe to assume that they would not be taught complex cryptosystems. Just like the Abwehr there is no reason to assume that these messages were secure from Soviet eavesdroppers.

Organisations in the rear areas
Could the Soviet radio intelligence services have gotten information on events in the occupied areas of the Soviet Union? Although the Germans were well supplied with radios they only used them when landlines were not available. In the East they quickly built up a ground network using telephone cable and drehkreuz lines. This means that most traffic in the rear areas would go by landline.

However some organizations had to use the radio more often and their traffic could potentially be exploited.

The German police - Ordnungspolizei was a militarized organization and during the war several of their units served as occupation troops in the East. Their radio communications were enciphered with the simple and double Playfair system and from 1944 the RS44 stencil. According to Major Schlake, head of communications in the Main office of the Ordnungspolizei, only a small number of Enigma machines (about 20) were used by the police. According to ‘The history of Hut 6’ the Enigma was introduced in February 1944 for use by higher police officials in occupied Europe. The Brits called this key ‘Roulette’ and were able to solve it mainly thanks to reencodements from double Playfair.

There is no reason why the simple and double Playfair would resist an attack by the Soviet codebreakers. The GRU 1942 report says that police ciphers were identified and ‘valuable reports were obtained about the fighting ability of partisans on territory occupied by the Germans.’ This information must have come from police reports.

German railways
The German railways - Deutsche Reichsbahn used a small number of rewired commercial Enigma machines for radio traffic. The key used in Eastern Europe was named ‘Rocket’ by Bletchley Park and was first solved in early 1941.

The commercial Enigma was not as secure as the military version because it lacked a plugboard. On the other hand the wheels were wired separately for the Reichsbahn, so a cryptanalytic attack would need to recover the wirings first.

So far there is no indication that the Soviet codebreakers were successful with that task but it would be theoretically possible since no special cryptanalytic equipment was needed.

German Allies
Apart from German troops there were also Finnish, Romanian, Italian, Slovakian and Hungarian units fighting in the Eastern front. Their contribution was important especially in the period 1941-42, with numbers peaking in summer ’42 at roughly 850.000 troops.

These countries used mainly hand ciphers so in theory their traffic should be vulnerable to cryptanalysis. As has been mentioned previously the traffic of the Romanian command was read in 1941-2 by the Soviet codebreakers.
The Germans were aware of the insecurity of some of their Allies cryptosystems and in 1942 they gave them a number of plugboard Enigmas but still most of the traffic would go through insecure systems. For example the cipher used by the Romanian police was found to be very simple and it was a security risk since the police routinely reported the movement of German units passing through their country.

Additional research is needed to identify the cryptosystems used by the minor Axis nations in the East and their exploitation by the Soviets.

The use of signals intelligence and codebreaking by the Germans and Soviets in the Eastern front is a subject that has received very little attention by historians so far. The main reason was probably the lack of adequate sources. That excuse might have been valid a few years ago but today the newly released TICOM material allows the researcher to discover many details about the performance of German sigint in the East.
When it comes to the Soviet side we know that they performed well prewar but there is limited information on the codesystems they solved during the war. The Soviet state invested significant resources in its signal intelligence agencies and the NKVD crypto department apparently gathered the top mathematicians and linguists in the country. The collaboration of such a gifted group of individuals must have led to the solution of numerous foreign cryptosystems.

Unfortunately the information we have so far is limited and fragmentary. Perhaps more information will be released in the future.

Sources: ‘The Mitrokhin archive’, ‘The codebreakers’, ‘The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives’, ‘Russian cryptology’, ‘The History of Information Security: A Comprehensive Handbook’ chapter 17-‘Eavesdroppers of the Kremlin: KGB sigint during the Cold war’, ‘British intelligence in the Second World War vol2 and vol4’, Decrypted Secrets: Methods and Maxims of Cryptology’, ‘The history of Hut 6’ vol2, ‘Kursk 1943: A statistical analysis’, FMS P-038 'German Radio intelligence'  , FMS P-132 ‘Signals Communications in the East - German experiences in Russia’, ‘The Soviet cryptologic service’, NSA report: ‘A World War II German Army Field Cipher and How We Broke It’, Cipher Machines and Cryptology, CryptoCellar TalesInspectorate 7/VI Kriegstagebuch, О ВКЛАДЕ СОВЕТСКИХ КРИПТОГРАФОВ В ПОБЕДУ ПОД МОСКВОЙ
Various TICOM reports including DF-112, DF-292, I-20, I-91, I-121, I-129.

‘Cryptologia’ articles: ‘Summary Report of the State of the Soviet Military Sigint in November 1942 Noticing “ENIGMA”’,’ Russian and Soviet cryptology iv – some incidents in the 1930's’, ‘Soviet comint in the Cold war’
‘Journal of Contemporary History’ articles: ‘Foreign Armies East and German Military Intelligence in Russia 1941-45’, ‘Spies, Ciphers and 'Zitadelle': Intelligence and the Battle of Kursk, 1943’

‘Intelligence and National Security’ articles: ‘The Soviets and Ultra’, ‘The Soviets and Ultra: A comment on Jukes’ hypothesis’, ‘More on the Soviets and Ultra’, ‘The Soviets and naval enigma: Some comments’, ‘Kōzō Izumi and the Soviet Breach of Imperial Japanese Diplomatic Codes’.
Pics: Soviet flag found through Wikipedia

Acknowledgements: I have to thank Ralph Erskine for sharing the ‘Intelligence and National Security’ Enigma articles, Frode Weierud for information on the German cryptosystems, Grebennkov Vadim Viktorovich for sharing information from his book on Soviet cryptologic history and Anatoly Klepov for general information on the history and achievements of the Soviet codebreakers.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Time for some new TICOM reports:

I-129 'Interrogation of SS Rottenfuehrer GRASSHOF' - 1945
I-148 'German D/F and Intercepting System Against illicit Transmitters' - 1945

I-178 'Homework by Hptm Boedigheimer, of IV/NACHR Regiment 506' - 1945

Available from my Scribd and Google Docs accounts.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The resistance leader ‘King Kong’ and operation Market Garden

In September 1944 the Western Allies launched a major operation called ‘Market Garden’. The goal of this operation was to use paratroopers to seize a series of bridges in Holland which would then be used by ground forces to sidestep the German defenses, cross the border and advance in the industrial Ruhr area, thus crippling the German war machine.

This audacious plan was promoted by General Montgomery who was thought to be extremely careful and risk averse in his operations. Montgomery thought that the great losses suffered by the Germans in the Normandy campaign and the liberation of France had greatly weakened their military power and risky operations were justified to end the war sooner.
General Eisenhower approved this plan and roughly 35.000 airborne troops took part in the battle. The original plan called for the paratroopers to secure bridges over the Meuse, Waal, and Rhine rivers so that the ground troops could advance and cross them without a fight.

By relying on speed and surprise the airborne troops were expected to overwhelm the weak German forces and be quickly relieved by the ground troops. The airborne troops were certainly not supposed to fight for long periods of time. They also lacked anti tank equipment so they were particularly weak against armored units.
Operation ‘Market Garden’ started out well for the Allied troops but the bridge at Arnhem could not be taken and once the Germans moved armored units, that were stationed close by, the paratroopers there were surrounded and destroyed.

Overall the Allied paratroopers suffered heavy losses in their operations. Their bravery however was recognized by friend and foe and thus the battle of Arnhem has been immortalized in numerous books and movies.
The sad failure of this operation is intertwined with the strange story of the Dutch resistance leader ‘King Kong’.

Christiaan Lindemans was a Dutch citizen born in 1912 in Rotterdam.  Prior to WWII he worked at his father’s garage as an auto mechanic. Due to his impressive physique he had the nickname ‘King Kong’.
In 1940 the garage was destroyed during the bombing of Rotterdam so Lindemans found a new job as a lorry driver on the Lille-Paris route, carrying fuel for the German AF. In Lille he lived with his girlfriend and had two children with her.

In 1941 it seems that through her he met with members of the Resistance movement and became involved in their struggle.
In 1942-43 he worked for several groups and built up a reputation as a fearless Resistance leader. The German authorities learned to fear him, not only due to his size and physical strength but also because he was quick to draw his gun and shoot at them.

However Lindemans had his weak spot. He was an inveterate womanizer and he had many girlfriends who often got him into trouble.
In late 1943 he learned that his girlfriend had been arrested by the Germans and at the same time his brother who was a member of the resistance in Rotterdam was also picked up by the police.

The loss of his loved ones drove ‘King Kong’ to the edge and he finally decided to contact the German military intelligence service Abwehr in order to bargain with them.
In Holland the Abwehr officer in charge of counterintelligence activities was Hermann Giskes. His memoir London calling North Pole’ (which I have reviewed here) has a lot of information on his talks with Lindemans.

Initially the Germans were fearful that Lindemans would try to set up a trap:
From page 166: ‘He calls himself Christiaan Lindemans and says he is a Dutch civil servant with a house in Rotterdam….The man is either a quite genuine mine of information or else the most dangerous character we have encountered so far………’’What does the man look like?’’ I asked. "He is a giant of a fellow, who gives an impression varying between extreme brutality and harmless simplicity. Nelis declares that he is one of the most active and sinister figures in the Underground movement in the West, who has a record of bloody affrays with German police and who shoots on the slightest provocation. His cover-name in Underground circles is King Kong.

When Lindemans met Giskes and his officers he explained his motives:
From page 167: ‘May I ask you to explain what brings you here?" I started the conversation. "I have heard it said that you have contacts with the Allied Secret Services, and I shall be grateful if you will tell me in brief terms who you are, what you want from us, and what you have to offer.’’ CC replied in fluent German. "If I am not mistaken," he began, "I am speaking to the head of the German counter-espionage. I wish to address my proposal to him alone, as I do not expect to get satisfaction from anyone else. My personal particulars as given yesterday to Herr Walter (Wurr) are genuine. I am Christiaan Lindemans of Rotterdam, and I have worked for the English Secret Service since the spring of 1940. For the last six months I have brought in my youngest brother to assist in getting English airmen out of the country. He has been discovered, arrested by the SIPO, and is now under sentence of death pronounced by a German military court. I feel myself responsible for my brother’s fate, since it was I who introduced him to this work. If you can arrange to have my brother freed, i am ready to hand over the whole of my knowledge of the Allied Secret Services.

From page 168: ‘For the past five years I have been impelled by single thought—to do my utmost for the Allied Secret Service, without thought of thanks or reward. I have been met with ingratitude, mistrust and betrayal. If you only knew how many weaklings, place-seekers and collaborators, who have used their connections with the Germans simply to enrich themselves, are now starting to come over to us because they believe that the defeat of Germany is imminent. If you knew this you would understand me better and would realize why I have come to you. The men through whom we carried the Resistance during the first years of the Occupation have nearly all gone—dead, arrested or just disappeared. Of the remainder, there are only a few whom i can trust. Leave them in peace! I will guarantee that in due course you will learn a great deal about the plans of the Underground and of London. Hand me over my brother and then make use of me as seems best to you. King Kong, as they call me, is friend or foe.
So Christiaan Lindemans became a German spy and compromised the Resistance groups that he knew of. However the most interesting part of his betrayal concerns his knowledge of operation ‘Market Garden’.

The plot thickens
Was Lindemans able to warn the Germans about ‘Market Garden’? Let’s have a look at the available information.

According to the official history ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War: Volume 4’:
At the beginning of September Giskes instructed King Kong to stay behind in Belgium and try to penetrate the British Intelligence Service. King Kong quickly obtained an introduction through the Armee Blanche to a unit in Antwerp working for IS 9. Probably about 12 September he was dispatched on a mission to pass through the lines to Eindhoven and inform chiefs of the Resistance there that they were to stay quiet. Such Allied pilots as they had in their care were not to move as the Allied armies would liberate the territory shortly.’

While crossing the lines Lindemans was arrested by a German patrol and taken to a prison. There he revealed to his captors that he worked for the Abwehr and was sent to the Abwehr unit in Driebergen, where the commander of that unit, Major Kiesewetter interrogated him. Afterwards he was taken to Eindhoven and stayed there until it was liberated by the Allies.
According to ‘British intelligence’ vol4 Kiesewetter’s testimony on this matter is not available as he was never interrogated. However Giskes and his subordinate Huntemann were interrogated at Camp 020 at the end of the war.

These two confirmed the story of Lindemans arrest and interrogation by Kiesewetter but their information was second hand. Was ‘Market Garden’ compromised by ‘King Kong’?
The relevant information seems to be contradictory in some parts. Giskes told the British that on September 15 ‘King Kong’ spoke of an Allied attack towards Eindhoven with paratroopers taking part.

On the other hand Huntemann said that on 16 September he learned from Kiesewetter that an Allied airborne operation was expected in the Munster-Dülmen area of Westphalia and Arnhem had not been mentioned but in 1945 he had heard from Giskes that Lindemans had indeed identified Arnhem in his report.
However Giskes says the following about King Kong and operation ‘Market Garden’ in his memoir:

From page 189 – ‘On August 25th King Kong brought in a report which purported to emanate the head of the Armee Blanche. The report indicated that the main thrust of the Allies was directed at the Dinant area, with the intention of advancing via Namur in the direction of Eindhoven so as to seize the river crossings at Nijmegen and Arnhem. The subsequent attack would follow from a bridgehead thrown across the Rhine and Waal, down the Ijssel and towards the German North Sea coast. On that day we were able to pass this message over the radio-link which had been re-established with No. III headquarters West, which had now moved back to the Luxembourg area. An attempt at confirmation of the report was unsuccessful, but the actual development of the Allied attack during the next three weeks established the correctness of the information.’
Note that August 25≠September 15. Perhaps this is a mistake in the book. Or perhaps not…

In page 199 the story changes again and Giskes says that Lindemans did not mention Arnhem in his interrogation of 15th September but he did reveal that powerful American and British airborne units would take part in the upcoming battle. According to Giskes this information coupled with other sources of intelligence (Giskes mentions the Luftwaffe radio intelligence service and RAF recon planes flying over Nijmegen and Arnhem) were enough to give the German command a hint of what was coming.
In addition there is the testimony of another Abwehr officer who worked for Giskes, named Richard Christmann. In 1946 he was interrogated by the French and said that he was the one that took Lindemans to Driebergen. According to him Lindemans reported that major parachute landings were planned on the line Eindhoven-Amsterdam-Zuider Zee on September 18. This information was immediately transmitted to Army HQ.

The same person was interrogated again by the Americans and this time stated that Lindemans had warned them of aerial landings in Nijmegen, Eindhoven and Arnhem with follow up operations in Amersfoort, Ostrand and Zuider Zee.
So as we can see each person gives a different account…

The end of King Kong
After Eindhoven was liberated Lindemans continued to work for the Allies as a liaison with the Dutch forces of the interior and regularly visited Prince Bernhard’s headquarters. 

In October 1944 his luck run out as another German agent who knew of his betrayal decided to offer this information to the Allies. King Kong was arrested on October 28 and taken to camp 020 for interrogation.
The interrogations were inconclusive with a British report stating: ‘Although the man has broken in the sense that he has admitted to working for the Germans denouncing patriots and passing military information, it has not been found possible to maintain the pressure on him owing to the fits  from which he suffers. The result has been that camp 020 has been unable to report what information regarding Allied plans and military dispositions King Kong has passed to the enemy.

In December Lindemans was handed over to the Dutch authorities but he committed suicide in 1946 before going to trial.
The mystery continues

It seems that in Holland several books have been published about ‘King Kong’ and his role in the failure of ‘Market Garden’. Unfortunately I don’t know if any of these books adds new information on this WWII mystery.
One of them however was written by the high ranking Dutch intelligence official Oreste Pinto, who claimed that Lindemans was the one who betrayed operation ‘Market Garden’.

Lindemans/King Kong definitely gave the Germans some kind of information on the Allied plans but so far it seems that no one knows exactly what he told the Germans. This is another WWII mystery with no clear answers.
Sources: ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War: Volume 4’, appendix 14, ‘London calling North Pole’, Wikipedia, ‘The Battle for Western Europe, Fall 1944: An Operational Assessment’

Acknowledgement: I have to thank Ralph Erskine for sharing the information in ‘British intelligence in the Second World War, vol4’.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book review – Normandy 1944

The Allied invasion of France in June 1944 ranks as one of the most important military operations of all time. Codenamed ‘Overlord’ its goal was to successfully land troops in France, defeat the German forces and liberate the entire country. Planning for the operation had taken months and the success of the Allied troops would mark the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.

Even though ‘Overlord’ was one of the most important operations of WWII there is a serious lack of objective analysis on all the aspects of the fighting in Normandy. In practically all the history books there are serious mistakes and misconceptions regarding the forces that took part in the fighting, the losses of both sides, the state of the German defenses, their response to the Allied landings, the performance of weapons and tanks, the role of logistics etc.
The main problem is that historians have relied on each other’s books instead of searching the archives for the answers.

The book ‘Normandy 1944: German Military Organization, Combat Power and Organizational Effectiveness’ by Niklas Zetterling fills this void by using reports from the German archives in order to answer some important questions. Zetterling was also the coauthor of the ground breaking ‘Kursk 1943: A Statistical Analysis’, so if you’ve read that book you know that the analysis will be top notch.

The book is separated into three parts. The first part has a series of chapters devoted to the most important aspects of the Normandy campaign. The second part lists all the German units and gives an overview of their strength, their equipment situation and the role they played in the fighting. There is also a short appendix with information on some ‘special’ topics such as the movement of German units to Normandy, ‘tooth to tail ratios’, flak units and some very interesting criticism of recent books!

The chapters in the first part cover:
1). Overview of sources available to the historian.

2). The terminology used in German reports (ration strength, combat strength, combat values, numbering of units, difference between losses in tanks and total losses etc). Many mistakes by well meaning historians are due to lack of understanding regarding the meaning of those terms.

For example it can be stated in a book that a German division was crippled because only 300 men were left to fight. Since a standard infantry division usually had 10.000 men it seems obvious that the unit was destroyed (9.700 casualties…). However the number in the report could refer only to front strength ‘Kampfstarke’ or only to infantry men, in which case it doesn’t mean that the unit of 10.000 had been reduced to 300, only that the infantry element had been reduced.

3). Organization of German units and comparison with Anglo-American structure. US and UK had a large part of their combat troops in non divisional units, which makes it a mistake to directly compare German and US-UK strengths in a battle just by looking at the number of divisions on each side.

4). Number of soldiers employed in Normandy and comparison with the Allies. There is a table listing all the German units and their strength at the beginning of June. Overall about 640.000 troops fought in Normandy or supported those operations.
5). Effects of Allied airpower. As has been shown in ‘Air Power at the Battlefront’ the effects of Allied fighter bombers have been exaggerated. However the bombing campaign against the French rail network caused serious problems for the Germans.

6). Overview of the types and basic characteristics of the German armored vehicles (Panzer IV, Panther, Tiger, Stug III, Marder, etc)

7). German losses in Normandy. There is a table listing each unit that fought in Normandy and the casualties they suffered. There is also analysis on the German AFV losses.
8). German combat efficiency analysis, taking into account the strength and loss rations for German and Allied units (statistical method of T.N. Dupuy).

9). Movement of units to Normandy. The German units were deficient in motor transport and dependant on the civilian rail network that was the target of Allied airpower. This limited their mobility and meant that they could not move to Normandy quickly. According to the author these objective factors explain the timing and speed of the German units sent to Normandy rather than the Allied disinformation operation and the convoluted command structure of the German military in France.
10). Author’s conclusion. Based on all the information presented in the previous chapters it is the author’s belief that the campaign in Normandy has been misrepresented for too long and further research is needed.

Some excerpts: ‘The image of the German forces in the West as combat ready units eagerly anticipating an Allied invasion but hampered by ambiguous, divided and hesitant command does not stand up to closer scrutiny………………….Insufficient  mobility was caused by shortages of vehicles, spare parts and fuel…..Another important factor was the fact that many of the German armor formations in the West were units depleted after sustained combat in the Eastern front…..Allied airpower seems to have been misrepresented quite often……Given the Allied numerical preponderance and air superiority , it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that the German ground units on average were more efficient in combat than their adversaries.
The second part lists the units that were stationed in the West, their strength and equipment situation and the role they played in the fighting. There is information for all kinds of units, from obscure artillery battalions, paratroopers, the mobile Flak corps up to infantry and Panzer divisions.

In the appendices there is further analysis of some important aspects of the campaign plus some criticism of other authors.
In appendix 8 the author points out serious mistakes in ‘The GI offensive in Europe’ by Peter R. Mansoor, ‘Draftee Division’ by John Sloan Brown and ‘German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare’ by Omer Bartov.

In appendix 10 Christopher A. Lawrence (director of the Dupuy Institute) critiques the book ‘Draftee Division’ by John Sloan Brown

This book is highly recommended. My opinion is that you can’t be a serious WWII reader and not have it in your collection!

Friday, July 5, 2013

More information on the French high level FLD code

In the period 1939-40 the Germans were able to decode the messages sent from the French War Ministry to the regional military Commands. This network was called FLD from the discriminant used on the messages.

The information gained played an important role in the German victory in the Battle of France.
I’ve gone through the various statements on the solution of this code by German personnel here, here and here. Additional information on the FLD code is available from Dr Erich Huettenhain, chief cryptanalyst of OKW/Chi during that period.

The article ‘Erich Hüttenhain: Entzifferung 1939–1945’ by Friedrich L. Bauer in Informatik-Spektrum Volume 31 presents some case studies on cryptology from Huettenhain’s unpublished manuscript written in 1970.
One of the cases described is the French FLD net:

‘Das französische fld-Netz
Der nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg sehr erfolgreiche Dienst des franzosischen Kriegsministeriums benutzte im Verkehr mit seinen Wehrkreisen einen vierziffrigen Code, dessen 10.000 Gruppen fast alle belegt waren……’

According to Huettenhain the crypto system was solved by finding messages that had parallel passages. The system was identified as a transposition cipher.
From mid 1939 the code was used by the French War Ministry in communications with the military district adjacent to Italy. However from September 1939 this method was adopted by the other military districts too!

Huettenhain says that this success allowed the Germans to monitor the situation in the rear areas, the movement of troops, the armament of the individual units, the morale of the troops, the weak points of the Maginot line etc
Unfortunately this German success has not been recognized by historians.

Acknowledgements: I have to thank Frode Weierud for sharing the article in Informatik-Spektrum.