Sunday, April 29, 2012

Photographic Studios in the German occupied territories and the NKVD

During WWII countless cases of espionage and betrayal were discovered by each country. Some were exceedingly devious. One such case concerns the use of photographic studios by the Germans and their Allies in the East.

In the Eastern front the German security services were waging a silent war against Soviet intelligence. In order to keep the population under control they created security and police forces loyal to them. The people organized in these agencies needed security papers with their photographs and personal details.

Photographic studios in the Soviet territories were few and it seems the owners had a connection with the NKVD. During the German occupation the people in these studios were able to provide the NKVD with the pictures and addresses of the people working for the Germans. In many cases they also tried to compromise German personnel.

Eventually the Germans managed to uncover this operation but by then it was too late…

The relevant information is available from FMS P-122German Counterintelligence Activities in Occupied Russia 1941-45' by  Wladimir W. Posdnjakoff, p128-30 (available from fold3)

VI. Photographic Studios as Espionage Centers

The Soviets made clever use of photographic studios. German intelligence and counterintelligence agencies did not pay attention to these studios soon enough. In the Soviet Union their number was small, and the owners always had trouble securing the necessary film and other photographic materials. The NKVD kept the majority of them under its control and during, the occupation this agency exercised increasing pressure on its agents operating in these establishments. NKVD agents collected all the photographs made of German military personnel. On the basis of those pictures, the Soviets were able to follow the changes in uniforms, observe how decorations and medals wore worn as well as learn the names  and postal addresses of individual soldiers and their units. Incidentally, the Soviets thought for a long time that certain sports modals awarded to German soldiers, such as a medal depicting a sword or the head of a horse, were military decorations. No wonder that they were confused and did not know how those medals should be worn. The procedure followed by the photographer was simple, when the soldier called for his pictures, he was informed that the photographic paper was of such poor quality that the print would have to be made all over again. The photos would therefore be forwarded either to him or to his family.

The local inhabitants employed by the Germans, always needed photos for various identification purposes. Seldom did they refuse to give their addresses or the position they held. Thus Soviet intelligence secured a complete list of "betrayers of their country".

With these photographs the respective sections of NKVD easily prepared superimposed pictures, showing the suspect in question in the uniform of the NKVD or chatting in a friendly manner with a prominent Communist. Those superimposed photos were ideal for blackmailing those who refused to become Soviet spies. By using these methods, a Soviet agent known as "Count Trubetskoi" was responsible, for the death of many a Russian anticommunist in Gomel.

Expert Soviet agents were also able to use this form of blackmail on German military personnel. If for example a soldier was married and his home address known, his photograph was falsified to show him in a compromising situation with a woman. The agents then threatened to send this picture to his wife unless he disclosed some information, which at the beginning was only of a trifling nature. Late in 1943, some of the Abwehr agencies became interested in these photographic studios but by that time great harm had already been done. It was characteristic that the store owners obtained films and plates on the black market. Prices were high and such items were the most popular among the articles that German military personnel brought back from Germany for black-market purposes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

ULTRA intelligence and Rommel’s convoys

One of the most important questions regarding the war in North Africa, during WWII, is what effect did the sinking of Axis convoys have on the overall campaign.

Can Rommel’s defeat be attributed to his lost supplies? Or were the losses tolerable?
It is an important question not only in the context of military operations but also because the intelligence that allowed the Allies to monitor the convoy movements came from decoding Italian secret communications. Specifically messages enciphered by the Italian Navy’s Hagelin C-38 cipher machine.
As such many authors and even the British official history ‘British intelligence in the Second World War’ mention this achievement in glowing terms and argue that it was of immense importance.
Is that true? Did Bletchley Park’s success with the C-38 have strategic implications?
The answer is yes and no.
It is undoubtedly true that the movements of the  Italian convoys could be followed by decoding their messages. For anyone who doubts that ‘British intelligence in the Second World War’ vol2 has an entire appendix ( Appendix 17-‘Contribution of Sigint to Axis shipping losses on North African route June to October 1942’ ) which lists Axis shipping sunk and the decoded messages that betrayed their journey.
The main source of information came from decodes of the C-38 cipher machine. This was a model built by  the Hagelin company and sold to many countries around the world. During WWII several countries used it for secret messages, including Italy, Portugal, Sweden and the USA. In American service it was called M-209 (slightly modified version).
The C-38 was a small but surprisingly powerful cipher provided that it was used well. If the internal settings were changed each day and if messages with the same indicator were avoided then it was very hard to ‘break’.
Unfortunately for the Axis it seems the Italians seriously misused it and thus made the British work much easier. According to a British report : ‘The very serious mis­use of it - monthly change of internal set-up, and change of slide about twice a week - robs it entirely of security’ [Source: J. J. Eachus, memorandum (nd), ‘Hagelin, as used by Italians’].
Moreover it seems that messages were frequently enciphered with the same settings so these ‘depths’ were used by the British codebreakers to recover the true settings. A ‘crib’ frequently used on those depths was ‘KSUPERMARINAKALTK’ (K was a word separator). [Source: Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park's code-breaking computers, Appendix 4]
In order to speed things up a cryptanalytic device named Nightingale was built and used by the British.
Thanks to these decoded messages the movements and often the contents of the convoys could be recovered in time for measures to be taken against them.
So that part of the story is clear, in which case why did i say no earlier?
Having the information is one thing. Using it is another. In order for secret intelligence to be of use in the field it is necessary for a military force to have the means to attack the enemy. In the first half of 1941 and 1942 the Brits had the information but could not attack the convoys because they lacked the necessary ships and aircraft.
Malta was used as a base for British planes and warships which attacked Axis shipping. When enough planes and ships were available they took a heavy toll on convoys. However when that happened the Germans intervened with their Luftwaffe (Fliegerkorps X  and later Luftflotte 2) and temporarily neutralised the island. This happened in the first halves of 1941 and 1942.
British efforts to move supplies and war material to Malta reversed the situation and allowed the German and Italian forces to take a heavy toll of British convoys.
Thus for long periods of time the Axis were able to transport large quantities of equipment unmolested even though their convoy routes were known to the enemy.
The other major issue is that even when the Allies made a major interdiction effort, against the convoys, the Italian Navy was able to transport the majority of supplies to N.Africa (in 1941-2)
Initially i was under the impression that the majority of supplies were sunk en route, at least that was the general impression that i got from books and articles. However a detailed look into the convoy statistics taken from the most official source ‘La Marina Italiana Nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale’-(1972) makes it clear that this was not the case.
Let’s have a look at the statistics:
Supplies by type:

Supplies by recipient:

It’s obvious that the Italians were able to transport safely the overwhelming majority of the supplies. The total is 84% for both years. This is true both for the first halves of ’41 and ’42 when the British could not effectively intervene and for the second halves when they did.
However that does not mean that the British efforts did not have an effect. There is definitely a fall in the percentages. For first half ’41 we get 94%, for second half 73%. For 1942 the numbers are 94% and 74%. If we look at specific categories then we can find cases where there is a significant drop in the supplies received.
In 1941 the main outlier are fuel shipments in November and December .During those months a British naval force operating from Malta was able to attack and destroy Italian convoys. One of their most successful operations took place on the  night of 8-9 November. As a result in November only 8% of fuel supplies are received. However due to bad luck on 18 Dec ’41 the naval K force (2 cruisers plus 2 destroyers) operating out of Malta drifted into a minefield and out of 4 ships 2 were sunk and 2 heavily damaged.
In 1942 the major German effort to neutralize Malta through bombing was successful and allowed Italian shipping to cross the Med without problems. In the second half however British efforts resumed and we can see from the stats that fuel shipments were affected. In percentage terms we get 97% for first half and 63% for the second. If we look at absolute numbers it’s 134,585t versus 113,559t, a decrease of 16%. This doesn’t seem to me to be a loss of strategic proportions.
Especially in the period July-November 1942 an average of 22,300t of combustible liquids are successfully transported. These would be enough for the Axis forces if they had chosen a defensive strategy and stayed close to their supply ports.
It should also be made clear that when books conflate lost with not arrived (as in ‘British intelligence in the Second World War’ vol2, p422) they are making a big mistake. Not arrived ≠ lost. Convoys were often ordered to return to port when ships or planes had revealed their position.
I hope that from the information presented so far it is realised that Rommel’s eventual defeat cannot be attributed to inability of the Italian navy to transport his supplies. The numbers are clear. Instead the main problem for the Germans was their inability to supply their forces far from their supply ports (mainly Tripoli and Benghazi). This problem has been analysed quite extensively by the renowned military historian Martin van Creveld in ‘Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton’.
German efforts to shift the blame for their defeat in N.Africa to their Italians allies were ungentlemanly.
Despite their faults the Italians fought as well as could be expected from them .The Italian Navy especially managed to transport the war supplies to N.Africa and fought with distinction throughout the campaign.
In the end the solution of the C-38 was a major advantage for the Allied side. Misused by the Italians it supplied first rate intelligence on the convoy routes. However that information did not have strategic consequences, as the British forces could not mount an effective interdiction campaign for long periods of time and even when they did most of the supplies always got through.
Acknowledgements: I have to thank Andreas Biermann for the convoy data and Ralph Erskine for giving me the information concerning British efforts vs the Italian C-38.


I uploaded TICOM reports:

DF-120 ‘Report on the solution of messages in depth of the American cipher device M-209’ , 1948. It is a translation of a German document from the OKH/GdNA archives describing the American M-209 cipher machine and its method of solution. Very interesting file!

DF-114 ‘German Cryptanalytic device for solution of M-209 traffic’ ,1948. It is a translation of a German document from the OKH/GdNA archives describing a cryptanalytic machine used to decode M-209 messages.
I have to thank Randy Rezabek for giving me the location of these files.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

M-209 instructional video

Here is a nice video from youtube. It’s an instructional video for operators of the American M-209 cipher machine. It explains how the machine is set up, what the external and internal indicator are and how to encipher and decipher.

The M-209 was used widely by the US armed forces in WWII.

The video has four parts. This is the first one.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Time for some new TICOM reports !

This time I uploaded:

I-31 ‘Detailed interrogation of Dr. Huettenhain at  Flensburg on 18 - 21 June 1945’ ( only 2 pages declassified !)

I-58 ‘Interrogation of Dr. Otto Buggisch of OKW/Chi’

I-64 ‘Answers by Wm. Buggisch of OKH/Chi to Questions sent by TICOM’

I-67 ‘Paper by Dr. Otto Buggisch of OKH/ In 7/VI and OKW/Chi on Cryptanalytic Machines’

I-193 ‘Interrogation of SS Obersturmbahnfuhrer Urban, Liaison officer of RHSA/VI with the crypto bureau of Hungarian General Staff’

SI-32 Special Intelligence Report - ‘’German Signal Intelligence for Intercepting and Evaluating Internal Communications (Baudot and W/T) of Russia , Particularly Communications Concerning Economic and Industrial Management.’’ (Information supplied by Alex Dettman ,chief army cryptologist on Russian systems)

I have to thank Rene Stein of the National Cryptologic Museum for the  I-31 and I-193 reports.

Available both from my Google Docs and Scribd accounts.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The RAF cypher

One of the high level British codes compromised by the Germans during WWII was the RAF’s cypher. This was a high-grade 4-figure codebook used together with special superencipherment tables.

The RAF cypher was used for traffic between airbases and headquarters. The Brits also had the TypeX cipher machine but not in large numbers for most of the war, so they had to rely on their book systems for a lot of the traffic.
Especially in North Africa the use of book codes was exploited by the Germans in 1941-42. The Luftwaffe’s signal intelligence units were able to keep track of British formations, their organization and their operations by reading the RAF cypher, the low level SYKO code and by intercepting plaintext radiotelephone transmissions.

German exploitation of the RAF cypher was first mentioned in ‘British intelligence in the Second World War’ vol2, p641 in 1981, which said that it was first ‘broken’ in March 1940 and traffic between the Air Ministry and Gibraltar, Malta, Habbaniya, Ismailia was read. From early 1941 to November 1942 traffic in the Med/Middle East was also compromised.

According to Dr Voegele, chief cryptanalyst of the Luftwaffe: ‘From Sept. '41 to Nov. '42 the majority of the 200 - 400 daily intercepted 4 fig. messages could be decyphered with an average delay of 5 - 10 days, in single cases messages were decyphered the day of intercept.’

The codebreakers of the Luftwaffe’s Chi Stelle did not have the basic codebook but they were able to ‘break’ into the system by taking advantage of ‘depths’ (messages enciphered with the same numerical sequences). According to the report AIR 20/1531 ’R.A.F. signal communications: security’ in 1940-41 there were two series of enciphering tables in use with the RAF Cypher, the ‘Special’ for higher formations and the ‘General’ for all units. Traffic was not split evenly between the two tables because the units that had the ‘Special’ sets were usually equipped with the Typex cipher machine so they relied on that. Considering that the ‘General’ tables were the ones used all the time and that they were valid for three months it was only natural that there would be heavy ‘depths’, although the number of 150 given by the report is definitely impressive!

Thanks to the heavy ‘depths’ and the heavy traffic (up to 600 messages daily) the Luftwaffe cryptanalysts were able to solve a new edition of the RAF Cypher in 1941. Traffic from the ME Theater could be exploited till November 1942.

A summary of the work done on the RAF Cypher is available from TICOM IF-175 Seabourne Report, Vol. XIII. ‘Cryptanalysis within the Luftwaffe SIS’ Part 1, p19-20

Other sources give more details:

From FMS B-644Luftwaffe Communications (Greece and Crete)’ By Generalmajor Walter Gosewisch. 1947, (available through fold3)


The rapid expansion of the Royal British Air Force in the eastern Mediterranean area soon taxed the intercept service to an increasing extent. Added to this was the fact that in the fall of 1941 the British changed the code book they had been using for ground radio traffic based on four-digit code groups. However, breaking the new code was possible only if the intercept service succeeded in picking up a sufficiently large number of radio messages encoded by means of four-digit code groups.


The specialists which the Cryptographic Office had placed at the disposal of the net control station achieved excellent results in deciphering messages encrypted by means of the new four-digit code book. In a short while they succeeded in deciphering such a large number of messages based on the four-digit code groups that they were able to interpret most of the transmissions of the ground radio networks. This data, in conjunction with the findings procured through the interception of aircraft radio traffic, made it possible to obtain valuable Information concerning the strength, equipment and operations of the enemy air force.

At the end of October, 1939, I began statistics of RAF 4 fig. on messages of Oct. 39 with a group of 20 soldiers who had not the slightest idea about decrypting - there was no time for teaching. Four weeks later I had the first items - 2222 take-part 2, 1111, main code, 1584 from a.s.o. Shifting from relative numbers - for 2222 I had 9711 - 1111 was 0822 was done by 0983 = read following 5 figures in clear. I knew that the first digits of old non-comm. officers' Pay Book was 5 or 6, so I got the 5, the other digits I got by filling up figures with 000 for instance 0983 57643000. As a proof I found 5 messages dated December 24th (Xmas) which were sent in open code without recyphering. Further I got 2 messages sent in syko and repeated in RAF 4 fig. At the end of '40 some recyphering tables were completely reconstructed - 100 pages, each 20 lines, each line with five 4 fig. groups. In winter 1939/40 about 30% of these 4 fig. messages began with 2222. In January '41 many of the messages began with the text followed by address in brackets - so it was easier to find overlapping messages.

On April 1st code was changed. At first 2222 and 1111 were represented by one group only (at least practically), spelling being a = 01, b = 02, .... z = 26. After a fortnight I had the first 200 items of new code. Introduction of disguised Indicator group stopped work for some weeks. The 4 fig. decrypting group was brought to Athens and some weeks passed before decyphering was possible. From Sept. '41 to Nov. '42 the majority of the 200 - 400 daily intercepted 4 fig. messages could be decyphered with an average delay of 5 - 10 days, in single cases messages were decyphered the day of intercept. When in Nov. '42 a new code was brought into use attempts were without result - so messages and many of the crew were sent back to Marstall in March '43. At this time I myself was engaged in USA systems. In '43 and '44 the quantity of 4 fig. messages was less than 200 and even less than 100 a day. Many of them were General Recyphering Table, One way system, Dummy and may be others. Messages of August '43 did not show the same characteristics as those of winter '42/43. At the end of ‘44 I made a new attempt with 4 fig. of 1944 on basis of differences between two 4 fig. groups. Result seemed possible in February '45 with at least 1,000 messages when reencyphered by table of 100 pages as before, or less with shorter books or single sheets for shorter periods. Details about this might be given by Unteroffizier Herbert RIEDEL, at last at 1/350 Kressbronn Bodensee, who in July '45 was French prisoner at Friedrichshafen (Bodensee) French zone.
Dr Voegele was  the chief cryptanalyst of the Luftwaffe.

The German success ended in November 1942. From then on they would have to rely only on low level codes, especially the easily solved Slidex.
However while it lasted their success allowed them to keep a close eye on British aerial strength and dispositions in the Med.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Rommel’s microwave link

The North African campaign provides authors and researchers of signals intelligence with many interesting cases of ‘broken’ codes and compromised communications. Just as the German and British forces went back and forth like a see-saw the same thing happened in the field of intelligence.

Initially it was the Germans who had the upper hand and from mid 1941 to summer 1942 they benefited greatly from codebreaking. From then on however it would be the British who would succeed at reading their enemy’s codes (while keeping their own secure).
An exception to this story is something i found out about recently. Apparently Rommel had a microwave link from Derna, Libya to Athens, Greece and using it he could communicate with Higher Headquarters in Athens, Rome and Berlin.
Here is a map of the communication link, from FMS P-132 Supplement: ‘Signal Communications in the East: The Balkans and Finland’, p34

Apart from being difficult to intercept the traffic on this link was enciphered by cipher teletype, probably the Siemens and Halske T52 type. Voice communications were also enciphered with a prototype speech privacy system, at least for a time.

As far as I am aware there is no evidence that the British were able to intercept this traffic much less decrypt it.
This adds another layer in the intelligence war between Bletchley Park and Berlin and definitely diminishes the effects of reading Rommel’s Enigma ‘keys’ in the second half of 1942.
The information I’ve used comes from the following sources:
Microwave link Derna-Crete:

From FMS P-132 Supplement , p33 :
A permanent Ultra-short-wave radio communication channel operated by the Army Ordnance office later extended the Athens-Crete decimeter lines as far as Derna in Africa. By means of this channel the German Africa Corps could communicate by telephone and teletype over the permanent Balkan lines with the Italian Supreme Command in Rome, the German Luftwaffe Command in Sicily (later in Rome), the Luftwaffe units in Crete and Greece, and the Wehrmacht High Command. The line established communications between the outermost wing of the eastern Front and the Afrika Korps in Libya.
More details are given in FMS B-644Luftwaffe Communications (Greece and Crete)’ By Generalmajor Walter Gosewisch. 1947, p30
During the German drive on El Alamein one advance command post of the Commander in Chief South had been established at Derna (Libia). From here orders were issued daily by means of radio to the X Air corps stationed on Herakleion, (Crete). Owing to the danger of interception any concentrations of radio messages had to be avoided and consequently extension of the ground radio network became a matter of necessity. It was impossible, due to excessive diffraction, to transmit communications between Crete and Africa across the Mediterranean, a distance of 370 kilometers, by means of standard beam-microwave equipment which operated on a wave length of 53 centimeters.
An attempt was made, therefore, to accomplish this by installing extra powerful ultrashort wave transmitters operating on a wave length of about seven meters and by using intensely focused directional antennas. These transmitters made it possible to establish a sufficiently reliable connection which could be used for telephone and teletype traffic. The danger of interception was considerably greater when operating on a 7-meter wave length than on decimeter wave range and therefore this line was used mainly for teletype traffic by means of self coding teletype machines. (Geheimfernschreiber)

Speech privacy system:
From TICOM I-46 ‘Preliminary Report on Interrogation of Dr. Otto Buggisch (of OKH/Gen.d.NA) and Dr. Werner Liebknecht (employed by OKH and OKW as tester of cryptographic equipment) 23  June 1945’ , p3
Voice cipher machines:

C. Superimposing noise of electrons on speech and taking it out by 180 degree phase; A fixed noise level was not at all successful, but a variable number when employed had some small degree of success. This plan was actually employed back in the North African Campaign when communication from Athens, Greece to Derna, North Africa via Crete was maintained. A noise level of 1 to 4 was employed; however, the problems involved outweigh the advantages derived and the equipment was destroyed by fire and never replaced.

The Germans used Kotowski’s concept as the starting point for developing a more sophisticated capability that was urgently needed in the early years of World War II. Gottfried Vogt, a Telefunken engineer under Kotowski, remembers testing a system for analog speech encryption in 1939. This employed a pair of irregularly slotted or sawtoothed disks turning at different speeds, for generating a noise-like signal at the transmitter,to be modulated/multiplied by the voice signal.The receiver’s matching disks were synchronized by means of two transmitted tones, one above and one below the encrypted voice band. This system was used on a wire link from Germany, through Yugoslavia and Greece, to a very  and/or ultra-high frequency (VHF/UHF) link across the Mediterranean to General Erwin Rommel’s forces in Derna, Libya.

The speech cipher device is described in the US patent US2211132A (found via klausis krypto kolumne commenter ‘Thomas’).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Did the Forchungsamt solve the Japanese ‘Purple’ cipher machine?

The Japanese Foreign ministry used cipher machines for its confidential traffic from the 1930’s. The reason they were so concerned about the security of their communications was the disclosure by Herbert Yardley that the Japanese codes were ‘read’ by the United States government. Yardley was in a position to know as he headed the ‘Black Chamber’ which decoded these messages. His book came out in 1931 and led the Japanese to upgrade their cipher security.

In the early ‘30’s they used the ‘Red’ cipher machine and from 1939 ‘Purple’. Solving these machines became a priority for the codebreakers of the Major Powers of that time but not all were successful. ‘Red’ was reconstructed by British, German, American and probably Soviet cryptanalysts. However the ‘Purple’ machine was only solved by the Americans and the Russians.

According to more recent reports the Germans might have also solved ‘Purple’. I have gone over the available evidence here.

Recently I had another look at my files and noticed an interesting connection.

From TICOM I-22 ‘Interrogation of German Cryptographers of Pers Z S Department of the Auswaertiges Amt’, p7

46. Dr. Kunze was then asked about the Japanese machine traffic discussed at a previous meeting (see para. 19) and whether a machine had been constructed to decode it. He replied no, that they had been able to achieve the desired result with paper models.

Paragraph 19 referred to the Japanese ‘Red’ cipher machine. This was used prior to ‘Purple’. The Germans were able to solve it in September 1938 and read all the back traffic up to 1936. However in February 1939 the ‘Purple’ machine replaced the ‘Red’. ‘Purple’ was much harder to solve.

So why am I posting this report?

There is an interesting mention of papers strips used to solve a Japanese cipher machine in a Forschungsamt interrogation report.

From TICOM I-54 ‘Second interrogation of five members of the RLM/Forschungsamt’, p2-3


….When asked if they had broken any other machine systems he replied that they had broken a Japanese system in ‘41-’42 which was thought to be a machine system though their solution was not mechanical but employed simply paper strips.

Paetzel was head of the cipher research department of the Forschungsamt.

So did the Forschungsamt succeed in solving the Japanese Purple cipher machine? After all that was the machine used in that time period…

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I uploaded TICOM report I-201 ‘Interrogation of Franz Weisser , Dr Phil Studienassessor of Anglo-American section of OKW/Chi’. It mentions interesting details concerning American and British diplomatic codes.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Greek cryptanalytic success during the War of 1940?

On the 28th of October 1940 Italian troops crossed the Greek-Albanian border and invaded the Kingdom of Greece.

At that time Greece was theoretically neutral but in practice supported the British. The Italians expected the Greek army to collapse and the country to fall in a matter of days.

Unfortunately for them this did not happen. The Greeks managed not only to repulse the invasion but threw the Italians back into Albanian soil. Italy’s poor performance eventually forced Hitler to intervene and German troops invaded from the North and defeated the brave Greek warriors.

What was the secret of the unexpected initial Greek successes? Could it be that the Greeks were able to read the secret Italian codes? This is actually claimed by Wilhelm Flicke a member of OKW/Chi (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht/Chiffrier Abteilung) - Signal Intelligence Agency of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces.

From ‘War Secrets in the Ether’ by Wilhelm Flicke, p138-9

Mussolini had decided on war in the Balkans. Von Papen's warnings made Hitler averse to any immediate action there, but he was only able to restrain Mussolini to the extent of limiting Italy to war with Greece. In less than two months the Italians, who had the advantage in everything save morale, were badly beaten. The political leaders were terribly surprised and the Chief of General Staff, Marshal Badoglio, and numerous other high officers were relieved of their duties. This did not help matters.

One of the most decisive factors during those weeks was the manner in which the Italians employed radio. The set-up was the same as that used in maneuvers of previous years. They employed open circular traffic; that is, they used one uniform frequency for a group of stations belonging to the same unit (e.g., the stations of three infantry regiments of a division for traffic with one another and with the divisional station) and each station used only one call sign for all its traffic. The call sign was supposed to change daily but was often used for several days; not infrequently a change in call sign was followed by errors which betrayed the change. Traffic was so heavy that the enemy always had a chance to take bearings and fix locations. Frequently messages were sent in clear. Several units of the Italian Eleventh Army distinguished themselves in this respect. Moreover, the Greeks had obtained at least two Italian army cryptographic systems, how I do not know, but it is certain that in the very first days of the campaign they could decipher a large part of the Italian messages. This enabled them to learn promptly most of the dispositions of the Italian command and to take appropriate action. The superiority thus gained was utilized cleverly and a series of military actions took place which heretofore would never have been deemed possible.

This is the first time I hear of such a success. No history book that I know of mentions this.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Eastern Front Aircraft Strength and Losses 1941-45

Hard figures on the fighting in the East during WWII are hard to find. I have posted figures about manpower strength and losses for both Soviet and Axis side here.
In this post I will take a look at Luftwaffe and Red Airforce strength and losses during 1941-45.

My source for Luftwaffe strength is the ‘Luftwaffe Data Book’ by Alfred Price. I calculated the data for Luftlotte 1,6 and 4. For Soviet operational strength I’ve used this post in Axis History Forum which lists Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voina 1941-45. Dejstvuyushchaya Armiyaas the source.

For Luftwaffe losses I used this post in Axis History Forum by Richard Anderson, author and former researcher of the Dupuy Institute (data probably comes from site ‘The Luftwaffe 1933-45’). For Soviet figures I used ‘Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century’ by Krivosheev.
For both sides the losses refer only to Combat incidents. Losses due to accidents are NOT included (the reason being that I don’t have that data for the Luftwaffe).

Comparison of strength:



Long Range Fighters


Medium Bombers

Ground Attack

Night Harasment


Short Range

Long Range



Soviet Airforce:

Year 1941
Year 1942
Year 1943
Year 1944
Year 1945


Ground Attack





Luftwaffe vs Soviet Airforce:

By  taking the data from the tables presented so far we get the following table:

I have lumped all Luftwaffe fighters together and also added night harassment aircraft in the ground attack category. For 1941 Soviet strength I’ve used article ‘Summer 1941’ by Frankson from the Journal of Slavic Military Studies.

Comparison of losses:

SU Airforce




Luftwaffe strength in 1941-42 stays close to 3,000 but in 1943-44 it goes down to ~2,200. This decrease in size is due to the withdrawal of units to serve In the West against the Anglo-American bomber offensive. At the same time the Soviet airforce manages to increase its strength by a huge factor.
The composition of the LW fleet also changes during the war. Early on the bombers make up a large part of the Eastern fleet but in 1943-45 their numbers are constantly decreasing while the ground attack aircraft make up the largest part of the overall force. Fighter strength also decreases each year.

For the Soviet force the huge numerical increase is concentrated on ground attack aircraft and fighters.
Regarding losses there is always a striking difference between the LW and the SU. The Soviet force always suffers more losses despite having a large numerical advantage in the period 1943-45. For both forces 1943 is the year of worst losses.

What is missing on the losses part is the losses per sortie statistic. Unfortunately I don’t have data for sorties in the East, with one exception. Historian Gröhler in "Stärke, Verteilung und Verluste der deutschen Luftwaffe im zweiten Weltkrieg" gives for the Eastern front in 1944 0,00703 losses per sortie with the equivalent number in the West being 0.0537.
Usually a loss rate over 5% means an airforce cannot continue to operate efficiently. On the other hand a rate of ~1% in 1944 when the Soviet airforce had such a quantitative advantage is very low. It definitely doesn’t paint a very good picture of the Soviet pilots.

Finally a word should be said about aircraft types. In 1941 the Soviet force is operating obsolete types like the I-16 fighter. However by 1943 the new fighter models Yakovlev 1,7,9 and Lavochkin 5 are able to fight well against the German Bf-109 and Fw-190 at least at low altitude.
For anyone who wants to learn more about the airwar in the East I can recommend the books of Christer Bergström.