Friday, December 27, 2013

Overview of 2013

I think I’ve written some very interesting essays this year. I covered WWII cryptology, wrote about spies and intelligence operations, presented detailed statistics about various aspects of WWII and debunked several WWII myths.

Let’s have a look at the best essays.

Codes and ciphers:

Codes of the Special Operations Executive-SOE: part 1, part 2 and part 3.
Signals intelligence and the Battle of Stalingrad: part 1 and part 2.

State Department’s strip cipher: part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.
Turkish codes

Soviet codebreakers of WWII: part 1 and part 2.

British railways code

Polish diplomatic code: part 1 and part 2.


The resistance leader ‘King Kong’

T-34 tank:

US report on quality of Soviet tanks

Recurring problems of Soviet tank design

WWII statistics:

German AFV production 1939-45

German AFV losses in the Eastern Front

WWII Myths:

The German war economy

Multitude of German AFV types

Battle of Kursk

In writing some of these essays i received help from other people who gave me information and/or documents. I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who’s ever helped me.
Keep in mind that real research costs money. The files that I’ve uploaded and used in my essays had to be copied from either the US or the UK National archives.
If you want to help me copy more files you can do so. The tab on the right that says donate works just fine.

Friday, December 20, 2013

US Chungking embassy message

I’ve written a lot about how the M-138-A strip cipher was used (and misused) by the US State Department during WWII.

Time for a challenge!
The following message was sent from the US embassy in Chungking, China to Washington in March 1943. It has the signature Vincent, which probably refers to Counselor John Carter Vincent.

Can YOU decipher it?

I know the following things about the indicator system. According to the cipher instructions of May 1944 all messages had to use the channel elimination table. The cipher clerk had to select 5 different letters at random and then use the channel elimination table to find out which of the 30 positions in the panel would be empty.

Although the cipher instructions did not include a sample channel elimination table I think that the version used at the time must have been similar to that used by the US Armed forces in the early parts of WWII:

The first code groups of the message must be the date (taken from either the Gray or Brown codebook) and then the channel elimination indicator that was repeated at the end. Following these instructions it would mean that XSUEF is a date group and TONZS the channel elimination indicator. Note that TONZS is not repeated at the end but that could be due to the fact that not all the codegroups were intercepted.

Since I don’t have the previous version of ‘Instructions for cipher device M-138A’ (issued in January 1942) i can’t be sure that channel elimination was used in 1943 by the State Department. Instead they could have been using only the split generatrix system (15 cipher letters from one column and 15 from another).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Australian tanker’s criticism of the T-34 tank

Site antipodeanarmour has uploaded the report ‘Centurion Tanks in Korea - Report by Lt J Brown RNZAC March 1952’ (originally found through world of tanks forum user Babui).

This report deals with the performance of the Centurion tank in the Korean War. What I found interesting are the comments on the Soviet T-34 tank, used by the North Korean forces.
And now, Sir, a few words for your private ear on the T 34. I assume that the tks given by Joe to Mr. Wu are old models. Even so they were grossly over-rated in press reports in the early days of the KOREAN Camaign. (A well placed HE shell from a 20 pr will lift the turret off). Only about 4 per Sqn have wrls and their armour is of poor quality. The whole tk is of the crudest workmanship, and breaks down with the greatest ease. (In fairness I must add that this may be due to inexperienced CHINESE crew). They would have to be used in mass, RUSSIAN fashion, to be any treat to a well trained, well equipped Army, as they have been proved somewhat inferior to the SHERMAN. A CENTURION will do to them what a TIGER did to the SHERMAN. They got their initial build up as a scapegoat to cover the natural and understandable, fact that the first American tps over here were raw, frightened boys who were also soft from occupational duties in JAPAN. The T 34, I am convinced, should be de-bunked. It is a workable tk, but NOT a wonder tk.

The Koreans actually had the latest version of the T-34, equipped with the 85mm gun plus these vehicles were built in 1945-46 so they were more reliable than those used in the Eastern front in the 1941-44 period.
It seems Lieutenant Brown was not a big fan of the T-34. Perhaps the T-34 was not the best tank of WWII?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Soviet signals intelligence and the German Enigma cipher machine

From the mid 1930’s the German Armed forces started using the plugboard Enigma as their main crypto system. The Enigma has received a lot of attention from historians since the solution of this traffic by the codebreakers of Bletchley Park played a role in WWII operations.

Were the Soviets also able to solve the Enigma machine cryptanalytically? Initially there were two main Soviet cryptologic departments during WWII, one under the NKVD’s 5th Special Department and the other under the GRU’s 8th Department. In 1942 the Army’s cryptologic department was absorbed by the NKVD department.
According to historian 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.

With so many talented mathematicians could the Soviets have figured out how to solve the Enigma? Could they have built special cryptanalytic equipment like the British bombes?
Let’s have a look at the available information.

Regarding the theoretical solution of the Enigma:
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 bombes ‘it might have been possible to organize people to replicate the mechanisms work’.

Regarding special cryptanalytic equipment:
The Cryptologia article ‘Summary Report of the State of the Soviet Military Sigint in November 1942 Noticing ‘ENIGMAhas a report from the GRU that 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’

Captured material:
There can be no doubt that during the war both Enigma machines and valid keylists fell into Soviet hands.

1). In December 1941 Enigma machines and documentation were lost by the German 2nd Army.
2). After the surrender of the encircled German forces in Stalingrad in early 1943 Enigma machines and documents plus signals personnel fell into Soviet hands.

3). According to the memoirs of Admiral Golovko documents were retrieved from the sunken U-boat 639 in August 1943: ‘Submarine S-101, which sank U 639 and recovered lists of call-signs and codes which made it possible to keep track of enemy submarines throughout the Northern theatre
4). During the summer ’44 battles several German units were encircled and destroyed. It is safe to assume that a lot of crypto material was lost.

Help from abroad:
During WWII their spy John Cairncross was able to infiltrate Bletchley Park and he gave the Soviets copies of the documents that he had access to. Some dealt with the Enigma.

So it is certain that the Soviets were able to solve Enigma messages thanks to compromised material and the possibility that during the war they managed to retrieve the daily Enigma settings cryptanalytically cannot be discounted. The only way to know for sure is for the Russian government to give researchers access to the wartime files of the NKVD 5th Department.
Another way is to look for information from other available sources. One such source is the report ‘Russian signal intelligence 1941-45’ by Lt Col Fritz Neeb, head of evaluation for NAAS 2 (Signal Intelligence Evaluation Center) of KONA 2 (Signals intelligence Regiment 2) assigned to Army Group Centre in the Eastern Front.

According to Neeb the Soviet signals intelligence organization was as good as or better than the Germans in traffic analysis and direction finding. However it doesn’t seem like they were able to solve German Enigma traffic, at least up to late 1942.
In page 17 of his report he says that during the Stalingrad battle a Soviet 5-figure message was decoded and it contained a signals intelligence report. The report showed that the German units in the area were correctly identified but there was a mistake in their numerical designation. This would imply that the information came from sources other than cryptanalysis since in German messages numbers had to be spelled out.

According to the recent article ‘О ВКЛАДЕ СОВЕТСКИХ КРИПТОГРАФОВ В ПОБЕДУ ПОД МОСКВОЙ’, 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 new 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.

Sources: ‘Russian signals intelligence 1941-45’, Intelligence and National Security article: ‘The Soviets and naval enigma: Some comments’, The History of Information Security: A Comprehensive Handbook chapter 17-‘Eavesdroppers of the Kremlin: KGB sigint during the Cold war’, Cryptologia article: ‘Summary Report of the State of the Soviet Military Sigint in November 1942 Noticing ‘ENIGMA’, Cryptologia article: ‘Soviet comint in the Cold war’, ‘Journal of Contemporary History’ article: ‘Spies, Ciphers and 'Zitadelle': Intelligence and the Battle of Kursk, 1943’, Inspectorate 7/VI Kriegstagebuch, О ВКЛАДЕ СОВЕТСКИХ КРИПТОГРАФОВ В ПОБЕДУ ПОД МОСКВОЙ

Saturday, December 14, 2013


I added information on the German exploitation of the codes of British liaison officers sent to occupied Yugoslavia in The secret messages of Marshall Tito and General Mihailović.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Pope’s codes

                                                 The Pope! How many divisions has he got?
                                                                                 Joseph Stalin
Although the Pope doesn’t have any divisions he has always been one of the most powerful men on the planet. As leader of the Catholic Church and head of the Vatican State he can wield great influence on world affairs.

With millions of followers all over the globe the Catholic Church has traditionally been well informed of world events. The numerous Catholic churches with their priests, bishops and other officials have always transmitted information back to the Vatican. In order to protect its communications from outsiders the Catholic Church has used various cryptologic systems.
During WWII the communications of the Vatican attracted the attention of numerous codebreaking agencies. Both the Axis and the Allies tried to exploit these messages and they succeeded, in part.

German effort:

Three different agencies worked on Vatican codes. The German High Command’s deciphering department – OKW/Chi, the Foreign Ministry’s deciphering deparment Pers Z and the Air Ministry’s Research Department - Reichsluftfahrtministerium Forschungsamt.
The Germans spied on the Catholic Church because they knew that the internal opposition to Hitler and the Polish intelligence service had connections with the Vatican.

Unfortunately the information on their successes and failures versus Vatican systems is limited.

European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II, vol3 says in page 69:
Around the beginning of the war, a desk was established for attacks on Vatican traffic. Seifert, a former member of the Austrian Cryptanalytic Bureau, joined OKW/Chi at the time of the Anschluss and broke a Vatican book.

Pers Z
European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II, vol6 says in page 33:

The 1940 Report of the Italian Group (Paschke) made it clear that while approximately 50 per cent of the Vatican traffic could be read, the traffic was not a major Pers Z S commitment. Reference was made to a one part, three-letter code, enciphered by a transposition within the groups, and to a one-part figure code, enciphered by means of substitution alphabets and a sliding strip. Most of the book groups were secured from Goering's "Research" Bureau (FA).

It seems that serious work on Vatican cryptosystems was done at Goering’s Forschungsamt. However the information from TICOM reports on the work and successes of the FA is very limited.

European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II, vol7 says in page 88:
Vatican Code,

In  a captured Pers ZS reconstruction of a Vatican Code Book the signature of a Fraulien Titschak appears with the date of August 1939 and a notation that she had copied out values at that time for the FA (Fraulien Titschak was a member of the Foreign Office Cryptanalytic Bureau). The Annual Report of the Italian Group of Pars ZS for 1940 indicates that while Pers ZS did some work on Vatican systems most or the identifications on Vatican systems were received, from the FA.
Several reports were written in the postwar period by former workers of the FA but these have not yet been declassified by the NSA.

Italian effort:
The Italian Army’s codebreaking department solved Vatican codes during WWI and in the interwar period. According to David Alvarez’s ‘Left in the Dust: Italian Signals Intelligence, 1915-1943’:

Access to Vatican traffic proved a boon to Italian intelligence. Such traffic provided Rome with advance word of papal diplomatic initiatives, such as the pope’s peace proposal of August 1917 and his efforts in 1918 to mobilize Catholic opinion and lobby foreign leaders on behalf of Vatican representation at the peace conference.
However during WWII the small number of cryptanalysts had too many commitments and it doesn’t seem like they could solve the high level Vatican messages.

Finnish effort:
According to David Kahn’s ‘Finland's Codebreaking in World War II':

Among the simplest codes to crack were those of the Vatican. In the 16th century the papal curia led the world in cryptology, and AaIto thought that they had not advanced beyond that level, as described in a couple of studies of nomenclators of that period in a Finnish journal by H. Biaudet in 1910. Vatican codes were attacked by O. Nikulainen because he was the only cryptanalyst who knew Italian. However, the results had little value.

Anglo-American effort:
Information on the efforts of British and US codebreakers versus Vatican codes is available from the article ‘No immunity: Signals intelligence and the European neutrals, 1939-45’.

The British codebreakers solved in 1942-43 parts of the low level code RED, a three-letter code of 12,000 groups enciphered by substitution tables. The information was shared with the US Army’s cryptanalytic agency that assigned a group of codebreakers to tackle Vatican traffic. This section was called ‘Gold’.
Neither the British nor the Americans were able to solve the high level codes used by the Vatican.

According to the article:
The cryptanalysts in Gold Section were surprised at the sophistication of Vatican cryptosystems. Explaining their lack of success, they noted that 'The difficulties encountered showed that considerable intelligence was matched against the analysts', and they concluded that they were dealing with 'a cryptographer of no mean ability.' The effort against papal cryptosystems was also undermined by the complete absence of compromised cryptographic materials and the communication discipline of papal diplomats.’

In the course of WWII the communications of the Vatican attracted the attention of both the Axis and the Allies. Both sides were able to exploit some Vatican cryptosystems but according to the information available, the Pope’s high level codes proved secure.

Perhaps a guardian angel was looking out for the Pope.
Sources: ‘European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II’ volumes 3,6,7, Intelligence and National Security article: ‘No immunity: Signals intelligence and the European neutrals, 1939-45’, ‘In the Name of Intelligence: Essays in Honor of Walter Pforzheimer’, International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence article: ‘Left in the Dust: Italian Signals Intelligence, 1915-1943’,

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

When real life turns into comedy

The NSA and GCHQ intercept and record all communications in order to protect ‘the people’ from evil terrorists.

The Guardian reveals that these agencies are intercepting the communications of players in games like World of Warcraft and Second Life.

Way to go guys! There are bound to be several Al-Qaeda cells in there. Don’t forget Counterstrike. Lots of terrorists there and they usually win most of the rounds….

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gremlins sighted in wartime Sweden!

There is said to be a race of creatures called the Gremlins. In their original form these creatures are cute and cuddly.

However if you give them food after midnight or if you throw water at them they turn into monsters!
Now I thought this was just a myth but a 1944 report of the Office of Strategic Services reveals the presence of gremlins in Sweden.
On the other hand maybe ‘gremlins’ was a codeword for the two US cryptologists sent to Sweden to clarify which State Department codes were solved by the Finnish codebreakers. They were Paavo Carlson of the Signals Intelligence Service and Paul E. Goldsberry of the State Department.
Personally I prefer the first explanation.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Inconsistencies in TICOM reports

At the end of WWII the Western Allies were able to arrest and interrogate many German codebreakers. In addition the archives (or parts of them) of several German signal intelligence agencies fell into their hands.

This information is contained in the numerous TICOM (Target Intelligence Committee) reports that I have uploaded to the internet.
However is the information from the TICOM reports accurate? Or were the Germans either exaggerating or downplaying their successes?

The validity of some of the statements made in TICOM reports can be assessed by checking the archives of the agencies mentioned in them.
If a German Naval codebreaker said that they broke a specific code in a specific time period then the archives of the B-Dienst would be expected to confirm this information. Same thing for the codebreakers of other agencies of the Third Reich.

However what happens when the relevant archives are either not available or have parts missing?
Then it becomes difficult to judge the truthfulness of some of the statements made by the Germans.

Case in point is their success in solving the State Department’s strip cipher.
Three different agencies worked on the US diplomatic M-138-A strip cipher. The German High Command’s deciphering department – OKW/Chi, the Foreign Ministry’s deciphering deparment Pers Z and the Air Ministry’s Research Department - Reichsluftfahrtministerium Forschungsamt.

Since many officials from these organizations were arrested and interrogated by the Allies one would expect that we would have a clear picture of their success against the strip cipher. Yet this is not true. On the contrary, there many gaps in our knowledge of their efforts and successes against this system.
At the Forschungsamt some work was done on the strip but apart from the fact that they solved some traffic we don’t know any more details.

At OKW/Chi an entire team worked on the strip, led by the mathematician Wolfgang Franz.  The information given by Franz who was interrogated in 1949 is limited. In his report DF-176 he said in pages 6-9:
‘Especially laborious and difficult work was connected with an American system which, judging by all indications was of great importance. This was the strip cipher system of the American diplomatic service which was subsequently solved in part.’

This system was so important that more workers were hired to work on it.
‘On the basis of gradual successes with the Am10 –that was the designation of the strip cipher system- Dr Huettenhain succeeded in securing the appointment of assistants despite vigorous opposition on the part of the administrative office and the philological sections.’

But Franz doesn’t give any details about the links that were solved or the information gained. He simply said:
All told, some 28 circuits were solved at the Bureau under my guidance, likewise six numerical keys-some of them only in part.’

He also downplayed his success:
‘To be sure, only a few solutions came in good time; in most cases there were lags of one to one and a half years. Since the essential principles were recognized too late and necessary personnel and aids were not available at the time.’

Would the Germans invest more manpower and even build cryptanalytic equipment in order to solve traffic that was years old? It does seem strange…
Even stranger is what Franz says in page 11:

‘At the end of the war I was on an official journey to retrieve some material which had been lent to the Foreign Office and was overtaken by American troops in Northern Germany.’
Hmm what kind of material did Dr Franz want to retrieve? Maybe it was relevant to the strip solution, maybe not, we’ll probably never know.

Erich Huettenhain, who was the chief cryptanalyst of OKW/Chi also had a leaky memory when it came to the strip cipher. In TICOM I-2 ‘Interrogation of Dr. Huettenhain and Dr. Fricke at Flenshurg,21 May 1945’, he said:
‘Q. What work was done on British and American codes and ciphers?

A. Diplomatic - most of the American strip cipher was read, strip cipher was used by the military as well as by the diplomatic.’
In TICOM I-145 ‘Report on the US strip system by Reg Rat Dr Huettenhain’ he changed his mind:

‘Only a little of the material received could be read at once. Generally it was back traffic that was read. As, however, the different sets of strips were used at different times by other stations, it was possible, in isolated cases, to read one or the other of the special traffics currently. We are of opinion that of the total material received, at the most one fifth was read, inclusive of back traffic. None was read after the beginning of 1944.’
In TICOM I-145 ‘Report on the US strip system by Reg Rat Dr Huettenhain’ he said:

On the basis of the cypher data received, the traffic on the one key could be read. In the course of time, as a result of compromises or partial compromises of the traffic on this key, or with the aid of other readable cypher traffic, other sets of strips were discovered by cryptanalysis. can no longer state how many different sets of strips were reconstructed; probably 10 to 20.’
But in an unpublished manuscript written in 1970 he said:

‘Auf diese Weise wurden von 1942 bis September 1944 insgesamt 22 verschiedene Linien und alle cq-Sprüche mitgelesen’
Translation: In this way, were read by 1942 to September 1944, a total of 22 different links and all cq (call to quarters) messages.

Note that the OKW/Chi activity report DF-9 for the first half of 1944, says:
Government codes and ciphers of 33 European and extra-European States and agents lines were worked on and deciphered. 17.792 VN were produced including 6.000 agents messages. From point of view of numbers the list was headed by Government reports of the USA, Poland and Turkey.

A number of complicated recipherings, principally American (USA) and Polish, have been broken.’
This must have been a reference to the US strip cipher, in which case Huettenhain’s statements about limited success ring false.

Apart from the Forschungsamt and OKW/Chi the Pers Z department worked on the strip cipher.
The Foreign Ministry’s deciphering deparment Pers Z devoted significant resources against the US diplomatic strip cipher. A team of mathematicians, led by Professor Hans Rohrbach made extensive use of IBM/Hollerith punch card equipment in their efforts to solve the alphabet strips. Rohrbach admitted to solving the circular set 0-2 but what of other sets?

Unfortunately I don’t have Rohrbach’s TICOM report (yet) but the Cryptologia article ‘Report on the decipherment of the American strip cipher 0-2 by the German Foreign Office' summarizes his work.
Rohrbach says that systematic work on the solution of the cipher began in November 1942 but in Huettenhain’s files there is a report that says that Pers Z was working on a US diplomatic system since 1939-40…

Rohrbach also says that:

As to technical means, we had at our disposal in 1942-44 a good selection of Hollerith machines. We frequently used probability and statistics theory mainly in order to decide whether or not an observed phenomenon was caused by chance or was, in fact, due to some encipherment.’
But another Pers Z cryptanalyst, Dr Schultz,  said in TICOM report I-22 ‘Interrogation of German Cryptographers of Pers Z S Department of the Auswaertiges Amt’, p16 that the greatest achievement of the mathematical research section was the solution of the 0-2 strips entirely by hand.

So what can we conclude from all these conflicting statements? Obviously we do not know the full story of the German success with the State Department’s strip cipher!
Acknowledgements: I have to thank Michael van der Muelen for sharing the TICOM report DF-176 ’Answers written by professor doctor Wolfgang Franz to questions of ASA Europe’