South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 518
June 2019

Contact: Charles Whiteing
Telephone: 031 764 7270
Mobile: 082 555 4689


The meeting was opened by the Vice Chairman, Prof. Philip Everitt in the event that the Chairman, Charles Whiteing was to do a presentation at this meeting.

After announcements, Prof. Everitt introduced the speaker for the DDH, new member, George Oliver whose subject was, “THE RACE TO CRACK THE ENIGMA MACHINE”. Aided by a Powerpoint slide presentation, George told the enthralling story of the development of the Enigma code machine and the breaking of the codes.

Enigma was invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War I after he had bought the patent for the encryption machine from Dutchman Hugo Koch. The German firm Scherbius & Ritter, co-founded by Arthur Scherbius, patented ideas for a cypher machine in 1918 and began marketing the finished product under the brand name Enigma  in 1923, initially targeted at commercial markets. Early models were used commercially from the early 1920s, and adopted by military and government services of several countries, most notably Nazi Germany before and during World War II.

Several different Enigma models were produced, but the German military models, having a plugboard, were the most complex. Japanese and Italian models were also in use. With its adoption (in slightly modified form) by the German Navy in 1926 and the German Army and Air Force soon after, the name Enigma became widely known in military circles. Pre-war German military planning emphasized fast, mobile forces and tactics, later known as blitzkrieg, which depended on radio communication for command and coordination. Since adversaries would likely intercept radio signals, messages would have to be protected with secure encoding. Compact and easily portable, the Enigma machine filled that need.

Around December 1932, Marian Rejewski, a Polish mathematician and cryptanalyst, while working at the Polish Cypher Bureau, used the theory of permutations and flaws in the German military message encypherment procedures to break the message keys of the plugboard Enigma machine. Rejewski achieved this result without knowledge of the wiring of the machine, so the result did not allow the Poles to decrypt actual messages. The French spy Hans-Thilo Schmidt obtained access to German cypher materials that included the daily keys used in September and October 1932. Those keys included the plugboard settings. The French passed the material to the Poles, and Rejewski used some of that material and the message traffic in September and October to solve for the unknown rotor wiring. Consequently, the Polish mathematicians were able to build their own Enigma machines, which were called Enigma doubles. Rejewski was aided by cryptanalysts Jerzy Rózycki and Henryk Zygalski, both of whom had been recruited with Rejewski from Poznań University. The Polish Cipher Bureau developed techniques to defeat the plugboard and find all components of the daily key, which enabled the Cipher Bureau to read the German Enigma messages starting from January 1933. Over time, the German cryptographic procedures improved, and the Cipher Bureau developed techniques and designed mechanical devices to continue reading the Enigma traffic. As part of that effort, the Poles exploited quirks of the rotors, compiled catalogues, built a cyclometer to help make a catalogue with 100,000 entries, made Zygalski sheets and built the electro-mechanical cryptologic bomb to search for rotor settings. In 1938, the Germans added complexity to the Enigma machines that finally became too expensive for the Poles to counter. The Poles had six bomby, but when the Germans added two more rotors, ten times as many bomby were needed, and the Poles did not have the resources.

On 26 and 27 July 1939, in Pyry near Warsaw, the Poles initiated French and British military intelligence representatives into their Enigma-decryption techniques and equipment, including Zygalski sheets and the cryptologic bomby, and promised each delegation a Polish-reconstructed Enigma. The demonstration represented a vital basis for the later British continuation and effort. During the war, British cryptologists decrypted a vast number of messages encyphered on Enigma. The intelligence gleaned from this source, codenamed "Ultra" by the British, was a substantial aid to the Allied war effort.

Though Enigma had some cryptographic weaknesses, in practice it was German procedural flaws, operator mistakes, failure to systematically introduce changes in encypherment procedures, and Allied capture of key tables and hardware that, during the war, enabled Allied cryptologists to succeed and "turned the tide" in the Allies' favour.

At Bletchley Parkin England, Alan Turing and a team of Cryptanalysts worked on the solving of the Kriegsmarine Codes as the Battle of the Atlantic was in full swing and the Allies losses of merchant ships carrying badly needed supplies was climbing steadily due to the successes of the U boats.

In May 1941 there was a tremendous stroke of luck for the team at Bletchley Park, when HMS Bulldog forced U110 to the surface and captured the code books and the Enigma Machine on board. (This account has been published in the South African Military History Journal of June 1993 under Operation Primrose by David Balme). As can be imagined the capture of this machine led to great success in breaking the codes but there was a need to speed up the deciphering, so the team at Bletchley Park requested assistance from the BPO and with the assistance of a senior BPO engineer, Thomas Flower assisted by Gordon Welchman and Bill Tutte the code breaking computer Colossus was developed. There is no doubt that this marvel of the 20th century shortened the war, some say by 4 years.

George was bombarded by questions and a request to come back and continue this interesting saga.

The Main talk was presented by Chairman, Charles Whiteing and was entitled, "German Military vehicles of WW2". This presentation was presented with a comprehensive Powerpoint slide show of photographs of the vehicles under discussion. If anyone would like to have a copy of these photographs please let Roy Bowman know at bowman.roy93

The German campaign in 1940 introduced, a totally new concept to warfare compared to that of World War 1. Tanks supported by transported infantry rapidly advanced across the old battlefields and trenches of the First World War, and among these numerous vehicles, there were a foreign makes that had been captured or produced in occupied countries.

However, although the Wehrmacht projected this motorised juggernaut, a large proportion of the troops were in fact mounted on horses, and throughout the war, supplies were transported behind the front lines, and in occupied territories by horse drawn transport. Elite Wehrmacht and SS divisions were equipped with a high standard of specialised military vehicle designs which reflected the German rearmament program which commenced in 1932.

This was a paradise for vehicle designers and manufacturers alike. For example what army had beautifully designed open touring cars transporting four soldiers only, or highly sophisticated half tracked vehicles transporting about a dozen men This creative transport honeymoon was terminated when General von Schell was appointed to consolidate models, standardise production, and reduce costs. He introduced his “Schell Program” which reduced the truck range from 113 to 30; cars from 52 to 19 and motorcycles from 150 to 30 models.

Within all these various categories, various vehicles had designations relating to their specific function. For example trucks had the “S” designation for Standard use with military trucks designated “A” for “Allradantrieb” or all wheel drive.

Vehicles were designed and adapted for different theatres of war including North Africa and the Eastern Front, which in both instances represented the most extreme variation of climatic conditions. The multipurpose mass produced Volkswagen “Kubelwagen” and its amphibious counterpart the “Schimmwagen;” was an example of a practical, inexpensive reliable vehicle which superseded much more expensive vehicle types.

As the tide of war gradually began to turn against Germany, captured vehicles were used, making the supply of spare parts chaotic. Shortages of material led to the replacing of steel truck cabs with a standardised universal Ersatz (substitute) type. This was known as the “Wehrmacht-Einheitsfahrerhaus” which was made from pressed cardboard panels on timber framing. These cabins were used on the majority of new vehicles produced during 1944-45, and in some post war instances, even up to 1947.

No other country had such a unique range of half track vehicles like Germany. Over 25,000 were produced and ranged from the small NSU built “Kettenkrad” motor cycle tractor with an OPEL engine, to the huge FAMO 18 ton “Zugkraftwagen” prime mover.

With the exception of AfrikaKorps vehicles with their yellow sand colour scheme; a bluish-grey base colour was used. As the war progressed, vehicles were also painted a sand or dried mud colour, with additional camouflage patterns where applicable. On the Eastern Front, mottled white and grey camouflage was used to blend in with that landscape.

Registration Numbers of vehicleswere prefixed by the arm of service to which they belonged. For example, WH indicated they belonged to the Wehrmacht Heer (Army),
WL – Wehrmacht/Luftwaffe - (Air Force), WM – Wehrmacht / Marine - Kriegsmarine – (Navy),
Pol being Polizei (Police & Military Police), SS being Schutzstaffel including the Gestapo, and OT being Organisation Todt which represented the German military construction arm of the Third Reich.

Numerous manufacturers included Adler, Audi, Auto-Union, BMW, Borgward, Bussing, Citroen, Daimler Benz, Demag, DKW, Fiat, Ford, Hanomag, Henschel, Horch, Krauss-Maffei, Krupp, MAN, Magirus, Maybach, Mercedes Benz, NSU, Opel, Peugeot, Phanomen, Porsche, Praga, Renault, Skoda, Steyr, Tatra, Trippel, Volkswagen, Wanderer and Zundapp.

There were numerous vehicle types and categories.

Motorcycles (Krad): These included Light (up to 300cc), Medium (350 to 500cc) and Heavy (over 500cc). Manufacturers included BMW, DKW, Triumph, Zundapp, Victoria, Phanomen and FN.

Light Cars: This category up to 1500 cc including 4x2 & 4x4 vehicles & were used for military purposes and in many cases were developed from a commercial chassis.

Medium Cars: These included 4x2 & 4x4 vehicles that were initially developed from the commercial industry, but by the mid 1930`s, manufacturers produced open vehicles with military-type bodywork, a.k.a. as Field Cars fitted with special tyres, removable doors and open or closed body designs.

Heavy Cars: These 4x2, 4x4, & 6x4 vehicles were specifically designed for military applications with a range of bodyworks including ambulances, staff cars for senior officers, NAZI dignitaries, and for Adolf Hitler himself. Here we have examples of Rommel in his Horch staff car, Himmler visiting the Lodz Ghetto in his BMW cabriolet and Hitlerin his State Mercedes Benz

In May 1940, Hitler& a fleet of Mercedes Benz G4 Cross Country touring cars toured Paris and various battlefield sites in France.

Here is an illustration in May 1945 of Admiral Donitz, the newly appointed Fuhrer of Germany, leaving his headquarters in Flensburg in his Mercedes Benz staff car to meet senior Allied officers to implement the surrender of the German forces.

Various models of Ambulances, or Krankenkraftwagen in German; included the Phanomen Granit, with other makes including Auto-Union, Mercedes Benz & captured British Austin and Soviet ZIS ambulances also used.

Light Trucks. The majority of vehicles in this segment were either 4x2 or 4x4, 6x4 or 6x6 commercial vehicles. There were initially many types within this category, but the Schell program had drastically reduced the available number of these vehicles. Examples included the versatile Laffly 6x6 Personnel Carrier and Prime Mover had exceptional cross country performance. Captured vehicles played their part as we see here with Rommel`s mobile headquarters during the North African campaign having a mobile base in one of these three captured British Dorchester Armoured Command Vehicles which he named “Mammut,” or “Mammoth” in English.

Medium Trucks:Most of these 4x2 vehicles originated from commercial vehicles.

Heavy Trucks: These massive 4x2 or 6x6 were adapted amongst others as tank transporters.

Half or Semi-Track vehicles have always been a fascinating feature of German Military Transport system and were available in all sizes & applications.

The designation Sd.Kfz 251/6 for the half track, was an abbreviation for Sonder Kraft FahrZeug or Special Motor Vehicle.

Trucks / Semi Track “Maultier” (Mule). The semi tracked feature was also adapted to truck chassis with a host of specialised uses.

Full track or Wheel-cum-tracknon armoured transport vehicles included the Sachsenberg Amphibious Tractor which was not unlike the American DUKW.

Armoured Cars: This category saw a number of wheeled armoured cars in various designs and armaments. The versatile Bussing 8x8 armoured car was often seen in many combat theatres of operations.

The Tracked Combat Vehicleshad a wide range of functions and size. This ranged from the Zundapp Goliath which was a radio controlled tracked vehicle containing 75kg of explosive with a larger model built by Borgward and named the Springer. A number were released on the Normandy beaches during the D day invasion but with limited success. The Tiger tank was fitted with the lethal 88mm cannon, and was the largest operational tank during the war with a total 1348 were built from 1942, & a further 485 of the upgraded Konigstiger or Royal King Tiger type. Although feared by the Allies it was technical nightmare to maintain. The largest tank ever built was the 188 ton Porsche Maus (Mouse) which was designed as a submersible for river crossings. It was never operational and only two prototypes were ever built. Adding to its sheer impracticality was the fact that few roads and no bridges could accommodate its sheer weight and size.TheWirbelwind or Whirlwind was a mobile quadruple barrelled 2cm rotating flak gun mounted on a Panzer tank chassis with the Jagdpanzer an effective armoured tracked vehicle with no rotating turret and specifically designed as a tank destroyer. It could be adapted to mount a range of various cannon including that of a siege mortar.

Towards the end of the war, many German vehicles had a metal seat fitted to the front wing where an aircraft lookout sat, and drive-in vehicle dug-outs were built alongside the main roads which a vehicle could be driven into during an aircraft attack.

Germany`s military motorised fleets had developed from the 1930`s to the height of technical expertise, but due to limited production facilities resulting from to daily Allied air raids, raw material shortages and combat losses, their military vehicle might had by May 1945 deteriorated into a complete shambles.

Once again there were many questions and comments for the speaker to answer.

Both speakers were thanked for their fantastic presentations by Donald Davies.

The Meeting Chairman then took over and announced the content of the next meeting on 13th June 2019;

DDH: The Bruneval Raid by DaryllAbboo.

Main Talk: Rose Milicent Vandecar - Florence Nightingale Medal recipient by Nora Simpson.

With that the chairman wished all a safe journey home.

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South African Military History Society /