The agencies that organized resistance groups were the British SIS and SOE, the intelligence service of the Free French and the Polish intelligence service. In addition there were the homegrown resistance groups plus the intelligence service of the Vichy regime.
Relations between these groups were complicated. For example the Vichy intelligence service helped the resistance but was at odds with the De Gaule movement, the communists distrusted the right-wingers and there was little cooperation between the British SOE and SIS.
The German agencies whose task it was to monitor and destroy the Resistance were also numerous. There was the military police Geheime Feldpolizei, the military intelligence service Abwehr, the Security Services Sicherheitsdienst/Gestapo and the Radio Defense departments of the Armed Forces and the Police.
Initially the resistance was made up of a few isolated groups organized by patriotic individuals. They did not take many security precautions and as a result their groups were easily infiltrated by agents. As time went on the groups that took their place were better organized and had regular contact with London via radio. They also received weapons, money and explosives from airdrops. In some cases these weapons were used for acts of sabotage but the majority were stored away for use on the day of the Allied invasion.
Considering the anti-German attitude of the French population and the geographical proximity of Britain one would expect that setting up resistance groups and organizing them would not be hard. Unfortunately for the Allies this was not so. The Germans were hampered by their separate security agencies but they were able to identify, monitor and destroy countless resistance groups. In many cases they managed to gain control of whole groups by maneuvering their agents into top positions.
They also engaged in radio-games with the British. After capturing radio operators and their cipher material they sent misleading reports to London and got the British to reveal parts of their networks or drop supplies and agents into their hands.
In 1941-42 their main successes were the liquidation of the INTERALLIÉ, AUTOGIRO, CARTE networks and the arrest of key members of ALLIANCE. In August ’42 they carried out an extensive radio finding operation in Vichy France called operation ‘Donar’. Depending on the source they neutralized 6 or 12 enemy transmitters.
In 1943 the Germans achieved their greatest successes against the Resistance. They compromised the SPINDLE group and arrested Roger Frager, Peter Churchill and Odette Sansom. They captured the leadership of the ORA-Organisation de résistance de l'armée and many of their members. They also captured general Delestraint, head of the Armée secrète. When Resistance leaders met in order to unify their groups the house was raided by the Germans thus capturing many top level people, including prefect Jean Moulin. In the summer of ‘43 the SOE’s largest network in France PHYSICIAN/PROSPER was liquidated. Also in ’43 the ARCHDEACON network was thoroughly compromised and many groups of the Gaullist MITHRIDATE organization were destroyed.
Despite all their efforts by 1944 the Resistance had grown exponentially. With Germany’s defeat in sight everyone was willing to help the resistance groups and even German agents crossed over and attacked their former masters, giving rise to the term ‘resistant du 44’.
Still their successes against so many different organizations deserve to be recognized. Why were the Germans so successful in counterintelligence work?
1). Sabotage vs espionage operations
The mission of an intelligence agency is to keep its existence secret and collect information. For these operations only a small number of highly trained operatives are needed. On the other hand an organization tasked with sabotage will need arms shipments, arms depots and lots of agents to move arms and explosives around and take part in attacks. Obviously such activity cannot remain in the dark as attacks on infrastructure and personnel will attract the attention of enemy security services.
In essence this was the problem of SOE (Special Operations Executive). Unlike SIS that always kept a low profile SOE was created to attack the German occupation authorities and destroy critical infrastructure in occupied countries. This meant that its networks quickly became a target for the Germans.
2). Antagonism between the Allies
Relations between the different Allied agencies were antagonistic. SIS was an established organization and had no reason to support the upstart SOE. The Free French distrusted the British and were in turn distrusted by them. Vichy authorities were willing to turn a blind eye to British operations but they hated De Gaulle’s people.
The effects of having many different organizations operating in France meant that the Resistance was fragmented.
3). Poor security procedures
Security was not a high priority in the resistance groups. The resistance people frequented the same areas (bars/cafes/restaurants) thus making it easy for the Germans to keep them under observation. Instead of trying to keep their identities secret some people openly boasted of being resistance members or showed of their weapons in night clubs. The size of the resistance groups was also a security problem. With hundreds of members it was impossible to keep double agents out.
One of the worst errors was the use of the same radio operator by several resistance groups. Each group had one or more radio teams but these were often arrested and when that happened there was no other means of communication with London. The proper procedure would be to wait for a new operator to arrive but what actually happened was that another network was asked to transmit their messages. Since there were many networks but few radio operators this meant that the ones under German control could compromise several resistance groups.
Serious security errors were also committed by the British. Radio operators were given a series of security checks to insert into their messages so they could inform on whether they were under German control. In many cases these checks were disregarded by SOE as mistakes of the operator. This is not as ridiculous as it sounds. Messages from the field had many errors and in a lot of cases were either completely unreadable or had to be solved cryptanalytically. Under these circumstances it was not possible to determine if the security checks were inserted correctly or were mistakes.
4). Psychological manipulation
The German security services have a reputation of torturing people but the reality is that in most cases they relied on psychological manipulation and not physical violence. Although prisoners were sometimes maltreated (especially by the SD) usually confessions were gotten out of them by showing them how much was already known about their networks.
Many people were enticed to work for the Germans in exchange for protection for themselves and their families.
For high level operatives a deal was proposed. If they gave up the names and addresses of the members of their entire network the Germans would guarantee that their people would not be executed but only imprisoned. Many resistance leaders took this deal.
5). Abwehr vs Sicherheitsdienst
For the Germans the existence of military and political security services was both a hindrance and an asset.
On the one hand the military intelligence service Abwehr often clashed with the political Security services (Sicherheitsdienst/Gestapo). There was undoubtedly duplication of effort and wasted manpower. In some cases one agency would arrest people who worked for the other thus compromising secret operations.
On the other hand each agency had a reputation that attracted specific kinds of people. The Abwehr was lead by military officers who had a code of honor and did not like torture. They tried to recruit agents by mutually beneficial deals. For example a resistance member serving a long sentence would be given the offer to be released in exchange for becoming a spy. In other cases someone could save a family member who was sentenced to death by revealing information about the resistance. These deals were honored by the Abwehr.
The Sicherheitsdienst did not have many moral scruples. What mattered for them were results. For that reason they were prepared to use torture, extortion and bribes. People who wanted to make money could offer their services and act as provocateurs. Criminal elements like the notorious Bony-Lafont gang worked for the SD.
An interesting trick by the Abwehr was to use the SD as a boogeyman. Prisoners knew that the Abwehr usually treated prisoners with respect. On the other hand the SD had a reputation for torture. If a difficult prisoner refused to give any information then the Abwehr interrogator would tell him ‘well there’s nothing more I can do for you, we’ll have to send you to the SD’. This got many men talking.
6). Skillful use of double agents
The Germans successfully inserted double agents in the resistance groups. Some of their most successful agents were:
Mathilde Carré alias ‘La Chatte’ was a founding member of INTERALLIÉ. It seems that she was romantically attached to Roman Czerniawski. In November 1941 she was arrested and revealed the secrets of INTERALLIÉ to the Germans. She became a double agent for Bleicher and compromised many members of the resistance. She also compromised Pierre de Vomécourt’s AUTOGIRO network when she convinced him to use her radio operator for his messages.
Vomécourt suspected her of being a spy and when they travelled to London together in February 1942 he had her arrested. She spent the rest of the war in jail.
Bardet was a member of CARTE. In 1943 he was tricked by Bleicher to come to Paris with him and visit his chief Marsac who was in prison. Bardet was then arrested and after spending time in jail offered to work for the Germans. He eventually became Henri Fragers second in command in the DONKEYMAN network. In 1944 he betrayed Frager and provided Bleicher with the BBC’s pre-invasion ‘Action’ messages. With the German defeat in sight he changed sides once more and attacked the Germans. He was arrested at the end of the war.
The mystery of ‘Gilbert’
Henry Dericourt alias ‘Gilbert’ was a civilian pilot who served with the French AF in the Battle of France. In 1943 he was approached by SOE and given the task to smuggle agents into France by plane. Dericourt carried out this mission with great success but eventually came under suspicion of passing information to the Germans and for that reason he was recalled to London in February 1944. According to his postwar interrogation to the French authorities he did give some information to the Germans. The truth is that Dericourt cooperated with Sturmbahnfuehrer Boemelburg in exchange for protection for himself, his family and his agents. That is probably the reason for his excellent flying record (43 people flown in and 67 flown out of France without problems).
It seems that through him the Germans were able to make copies of the documents being transported from France to London. These documents were later shown to captured agents thus breaking their confidence in the security of their organization.
Was ‘Gilbert’ a traitor? He did give information to the Germans but in his trial in 1948 Boddington head of the SOE France section came to his defense.
Dericourt took his secrets to the grave as he died in a plane accident in 1962.
7). Insecure communications
A serious problem for the Allied spy networks were the limited means of communication between them and London. Mail could be transported by plane or by ship across the Channel. In addition there was a southern route into Spain. The Germans occasionally captured couriers and their messages. They also had Dericourt as a source of mail.
The only means of rapid communications were by radio but this was a double edged sword. Radio transmissions could be also picked up by the Germans and if they could solve the codes then they could identify the agents.
Intelligence agencies have a reason to favor the use of unbreakable codes such as the one time pad. A military message is usually not important on its own. A decrypted message of a resistance group however could contain names and addresses which were enough to allow the Germans to arrest people and unravel whole groups.
Unfortunately for the Allies the code systems used by SOE and the Poles for much of the war were theoretically and practically vulnerable to cryptanalysis.
The crypto-systems used by SOE were initially substitution systems employing a poem as a ‘key’ or a passage from a book as a cipher. These were insecure and Leo Marks head of the SOE cipher department had them changed to OTP.
The Polish secret service in France used in 1943/44 a stencil cipher that was much more secure than the SOE substitution systems but it too succumbed to Germans analysis.
Radio Defence Corps and Referat Vauck
The German agencies responsible for monitoring illicit radio transmissions were the Radio Defence Corps of the Armed Forces High Command – OKW Funkabwehr and the similar department of the regular police – Ordnungspolizei. Both agencies operated in France but they were assigned different areas.
These agencies not only monitored the agents’ traffic but in many cases they were able to locate the site of transmissions through D/F (direction finding). In such cases the radio center was raided and often the operator and his cipher material were captured.
This cipher material was then used by Dr Vaucks agents section to identify the crypto-systems, solve them and decode the traffic. This section, headed by Dr Wilhelm Vauck, was originally part of the Army’s signal intelligence agency OKH/In 7/VI but worked closely with the Radio Defense Corps. It was established in 1942 and by the end of the year two-man teams were detached to regional Aussenstellen in Paris, Marseilles, Lyons, Prague, Oslo, Vienna, Brussels. In late 1943 the entire department was moved to the OKW Funkabwehr.
According to postwar reports they usually had success with a system if it had been physically compromised. However in some cases it was possible to solve enemy systems cryptanalytically. Mettig, head of the Army’s signal intelligence agency in 1941-43 says in TICOM I-115 that
‘a special weakness of Allied agents’ ciphers was the use of books for enciphering. Usually only a minor inroad or other clue was required to reproduce a piece of the cipher text and conclusions could thence be drawn as to which book was used. In the case of one Allied transmission in the summer of ’42, five or six French words of a text were ascertained, leading to the conclusion that the cipher book dealt with the Spanish civil war. In view of this assumption, all French books about the Spanish civil war in the State libraries of Paris, Madrid and Lisbon were read with the object of trying in these 5-6 words. The book was found. PW always looked on a great research effort as worthwhile. The greatest weakness in using books for enciphering lay in the fact that, once a book had been compromised, an entire transmission could be broken automatically. The weakness existed even if the book in question could not be secured in the same edition or impression. It was still possible for Referat Vauck (though again only after considerable research) to find the right place in the book and to secure a fluent deciphering system by means of conversion tables.
Another weakness of Allied agent ciphers was the use of poetry. Here the verse metre was an additional help in solving the cipher text, as was done in the case of a Czech transmission in the autumn of 42/43.’
When the agents’ radio and the cipher material were captured then the Germans could start a radiogame. By impersonating the radio operator (or forcing him to take part in the deception) they sent and received messages and were able to deceive the British about the true state of their network. Through these operations the Germans learned of the enemy agency’s organization, plans and personalities.
The most famous episode in this secret war was the radiogame in Holland called operation ‘Nordpol’. There the Germans were able to trick the British into believing that the Dutch resistance was very effective while in reality the whole network was under their control.
In France too they had many similar successes. For example in 1941 they captured and used in a radio game the operator of ALLIANCE and in 1943 did the same with the operator of PHYSICIAN. In the same year they gained control of ARCHDEACON and had the British parachute arms and agents into their hands.
According to TICOM I-115 before the Allied invasion they had 12 radio links under their control passing disinformation to London.
8). Limits of ULTRA
The solution of German ciphers was one of the greatest successes of the Allied side. The intelligence gained from reading enemy messages played an important role in the war.
However the British were only able to intercept messages sent by radio. In Western Europe the Germans relied on the landlines. Some messages of the Abwehr and the police were sent by radio and decoded by Bletchley Park but the vast majority stayed of the air.
British intelligence in the Second World War vol5 says ‘Certain communications, of course, remained secure throughout the war. All internal communications within the Reich that went by land-line, as did those between the Asts and Abwehr HQ, and between Abwehr HQ and OKW, fell within that category.
British intelligence in the Second World War vol2 says about police ciphers: ‘In contrast to the wealth of information it provided from eastern Europe, the police traffic revealed little about conditions in France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway and Greece until late in the war. This situation reflected the greater availability of land-lines and the fact that the police played a smaller part in occupation duties than they did in the east, the army taking the brunt, but it was also a consequence of the absence of widespread partisan warfare in these areas before 1944.’
In addition the Enigma key of the Sicherheitsdienst/Gestapo – TGD was not broken during the war. The ‘History of Hut 6’, vol2 says ‘It never cilied so far as we know and no convincing re-encodement from any other key was ever produced’.
When the Germans occupied France in 1940 they were not ready to deal with underground resistance movements. Their personnel lacked special training and they did not have well organized intelligence networks in place. Their efforts were amateurish and initially they were helped by elementary security errors of the resistance people. In due time however members of the Abwehr and the Sicherheitsdienst were able to ‘learn on the job’ and they became very efficient at uncovering enemy groups and turning around agents.
Even though they had to operate in a country with an anti-German population they still infiltrated and destroyed many large resistance networks. In many cases they were able to gain control of their radio communications and trick the British into sending them arms and agents.
Despite all their efforts the Resistance grew like a hydra. No matter how many networks the Germans destroyed new ones grew to take their place. By 1944 everyone knew that Germany would lose the war and even their own agents started abandoning them.
In the period 1941-44 however countless German lives and critical infrastructure were saved thanks to the efficient work of the German counterintelligence agencies. Up until 1944 the Resistance was kept at a tolerable level.
The successes of the German security agencies versus French, British and Polish resistance networks in occupied France are worthy of recognition.
Overview of important groups and personalities
INTERALLIÉ network: Founded by Roman Czerniawski/’Armand’, controlled by SIS. Most of the members were displaced Poles. Compromised by Mathilde Carre.
le réseau AUTOGIRO, dirigé par Pierre de Vomécourt « Lucas », dépendant du Special Operations Executive , section F.AUTOGIRO network: Organized by Peter Vomécourt ‘Lucas’, controlled by SOE. Compromised by Mathilde Carre.
CARTE network: Organized by André Girard. Compromised when Marsac lost the membership list in late ’42.
ALLIANCE network: Organized by Georges Loustaunau-Lacau, controlled by SIS. In 1941 their radio operator was captured by the Germans and used in a radiogame. As a result Loustaunau-Lacau and key members of the organization were arrested in 1941 and 4 of the group’s 6 radio transmitters were captured. Despite the setback the group continued to operate.
le réseau SPINDLE, dirigé par Peter Churchill « Raoul », dépendant du Special Operations Executive , section F.SPINDLE network: Organized by Peter Churchill - ‘Raoul’, controlled by SOE. Compromised by Marsac.
PHYSICIAN/PROSPER network: Organized by Francis Alfred Suttill, controlled by SOE. In 1943 was the largest SOE network in France. Liquidated in summer ’43. Depending on the source 500-1.500 people were arrested.
le réseau DONKEYMAN, dirigé par Henri Frager « Jean-Marie », dépendant du Special Operations Executive , section F.DONKEYMAN network: Organized by Henri Frager - ‘Paul’, controlled by SOE. Compromised by Roger Bardet.
SCIENTIST: SOE network in Normandy. Compromised by the Germans.
ARCHDEACON network: SOE network compromised from the start by the Germans. Used by SFHQ-Special Forces HQ for infiltrating new teams. Resulted in at least 18 agents lost.
ORA - Organisation de résistance de l'armée : Organized by Vichy officers in early ’43, following the German occupation of Vichy France in November ’42. Leadership captured in June ’43.
Armée secrète - Gaullist resistance organization. United the groups ‘Combat’, ‘Libération’ and ‘Franc-Tireur’.
MITHRIDATE - Gaullist network. In 1943 several hundred members were arrested by the Sicherheitsdienst. In late ’43 the group’s codes were compromised and the internal organization revealed. The headquarters in Paris were raided and Colonel Pierre Herbinger, head of the organization arrested in May ‘44. The group was also compromised through their collaboration with a Rote Kapelle network controlled by the Germans.
General Delestraint: Head of Gaullist network Armée secrète. Arrested in June ’43.
General Frère: Head of ORA organization. Arrested in June ’43.
Jean Moulin: Prefect of Eure-et-Loir and symbol of the resistance. Organizer of Armée secrète. Arrested in June 1943 when the Germans raided a meeting of several Resistance leaders. Was tortured by Klaus Barbie and died en route to Paris.
Roman Czerniawski - ‘Armand’: Polish officer, organizer of the INTERALLIÉ network. Arrested in November ’41. Agreed to spy for the Germans and was allowed to escape. Once he reached London he informed the British and was used to pass disinformation to the Germans.
Emile Bollaert: Replaced Jean Moulin as General Delegate of the French Committee of National Liberation in September 1943. Was arrested in February ’44.
Pierre Brossolette: One of the major leaders of the resistance. Became a member of the Council of the Order of the Liberation. Was arrested with Emile Bollaert in February ’44.
Forest Yeo-Thomas - ‘White rabbit’: Deputy Head of SOE RF (Free French) section. Captured in March ’44 while organizing the rescue of Brossolette and Bollaert.
Roman Czerniawski - ‘Armand’: Polish officer, organizer of the INTERALLIÉ network. Arrested in November ’41. Agreed to spy for the Germans and was allowed to escape. Once he reached London he informed the British and was used to pass disinformation to the Germans.
Mathilde Carre - ‘La Chatte’: Member of INTERALLIÉ. Romantically attached to Czerniawski. Arrested in November 1941 and subsequently betrayed him and worked for the Germans. Compromised Raoul Kiffer. Convinced de Vomécourt to send messages through her radio operator (controlled by the Germans). In February ’42 she went to London with de Vomécourt but her role had been uncovered and she spent the rest of the war in jail.
Raoul Kiffer - ‘Kiki’: Member of INTERALLIÉ. Betrayed by Mathilde Carre and later became a German spy. Organized a resistance group in the Lisieux area in Normandy. The group was controlled by the Abwehr but eventually became a security risk and was liquidated by the SD.
Georges Loustaunau-Lacau: Ex military officer and right-wing political figure. Organizer of the ALLIANCE network. Arrested by the Vichy police in 1941 and handed over to the Germans along with key members of his organization.
André Girard: organizer of the CARTE network located in the South of France. His organization was fatally compromised when the Germans captured a membership list in late ’42. Was able to escape to the UK.
Andre Marsac: member of CARTE. Lost the organization’s membership roll during a train trip in November ’42. He was arrested by the Abwehr in March ‘43. Hugo Bleicher managed to convince him that he was opposed to the Nazi regime thus getting him to reveal details about the SPINDLE group. Thanks to this deception Roger Bardet, Odette Sansom and Peter Churchill were eventually arrested.
Roger Bardet: member of the CARTE group. Was lured to Paris and arrested by Bleicher. Eventually became a German spy inside the Resistance. Managed to become second in command for Henri Frager and thus compromised the DONKEYMAN network. In 1944 changed sides once more and fought against the Germans. At the end of the war arrested and tried for treason.
Peter Churchill - ‘Raoul’: SOE agent. Organizer of SPINDLE group. Arrested in April 1943 by Bleicher.
Henri Frager - ‘Paul’: Second in command of the CARTE group, then became head of the DONKEYMAN network. Suspected Dericourt of being a German spy and informed the British thus getting him recalled to London. Eventually betrayed by Bardet, he was arrested in August ’44 and executed in October.
Henri Dericourt - ‘Gilbert’: French pilot who became the SOE’s air transport officer. Successfully transported agents in and out of France but came under suspicion of working for the Germans. He was recalled to London in February 1944 and interrogated. He admitted giving information to the enemy. After the war was tried in France but acquitted thanks to the testimony of Boddington head of SOE France section.
Pierre de Vomécourt: Organizer of the AUTOGIRO network. In October and November ’41 his radio operators were arrested forcing him to use the INTERALLIÉ radio link for contacting London. Since this was under German control his own network was compromised. Visited London with Mathilde Carre in February ’42 and had her arrested. Returned to France but was himself arrested in April ’42.
Francis Alfred Suttill - ‘Prosper’: Organizer of the PHYSICIAN network (also called PROSPER) covering Paris. The whole network was destroyed in summer ’43 and Suttill arrested in June. Agreed to give information to the Germans in exchange for protection for his agents.
Gilbert Norman - ‘Archambaud’: Radio operator of the PROSPER network. Arrested in June’43. Cooperated with the Germans.
John Starr - Organizer of the ACROBAT network, controlled by SOE. Arrested July ’43. Cooperated with the Germans.
André Grandclément: Organizer of SCIENTIST. Became a German agent.
Harold Cole: British national. Originally part of the MI9 organization, helping Allied airmen escape from occupied Europe. However after his arrest in 1941 he worked for the Germans thus compromising many Allied escape routes.
Bony-Lafont gang: Ex police inspector Pierre Bony and gangster Henri Lafont organized a group that hunted down Resistance members and turned them over to the Germans. The gang were infamous for their use of torture and extortion.
Oscar Reile - Head of Abwehr Counterintelligence in France. Operated from the luxurious Hotel Lutetia in Paris.
Karl Boemelburg - SS Sturmbahnfuehrer. Gestapo commander.
Hans Kieffer - SS Sturmbahnfuehrer. Sicherheitsdienst commander.
Klaus Barbie: Head of Gestapo Lyons. Infamous for his use of torture.
Hugo Bleicher - Initially member of the Geheime Feldpolizei. Was transferred to the Abwehr where he became an expert in recruiting double agents.
Goetz - Expert in radiogames.
Freyer - Head of the Funkabwehr’s Aussenstelle Paris in 1943/44.
Sources: ‘The German Penetration of SOE: France 1941-1944’, ‘Secret War: The Story of SOE, Britain's Wartime Sabotage Organization’, ‘Colonel Henri's story: the war memoirs of Hugo Bleicher’, CSDIC SIR 1719 - 'Notes on Leitstelle III West Fur Frontaufklarung', CSDIC/CMF/SD 80 - 'First Detailed Interrogation Report on LENTZ, Waldemar, and KURFESS, Hans', HW 34/2 ‘The Funkabwehr’, TICOM I-115 'Further Interrogation of Oberstlt METTIG of OKW/Chi on the German Wireless Security Service (Funkuberwachung), ‘European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II’ vol4, ‘War Secrets in the Ether’, ‘History of Hut 6’ vol2, ‘British intelligence in the Second World War’ vols 2 and 5, Wikipedia, ordredelaliberation.fr