South African Military History Society



The Chairman introduced himself as speaker for the evening. His curriculun vitae made no reference to his job, but a slide showing oranges was shown. The subject was "The Secret War 1939-1945". This lecture dealt with the importance of intelligence in World War II.

During the pre-war years the Germans developed the Enigma coding machine which was ideally suited to the transmission of coded messages by the armed forces. With the approach of war it was vital that Britain be able to break these codes. A German vehicle convoy was ambushed by Polish Intelligence and an Enigma machine stolen. The vehicle was burnt, and with it a collection of valves, drums and metalware. On fidning these remains the Germans were satisfied that the Enigma had been destroyed. The stolen Enigma was sent to England where it facilitated the deciphering of many of the top secret radio messages between Hitler, OKW (German Supreme Command) and German forces in the field. The information obtained by the Allies from this source was regarded as needing a designation higher than "Top Secret" and hence became known as "Top Secret Ultra". A mechanical computer was developed to assist in decoding of messages. Enigma was also used by the Japanese, and their coded messages were also broken.

The Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) sent many agents to Britain during the war. All were captured, many of them by means of Ultra intercepts. Where possible these agents were turned into double agents. It is interesting to note that all German radios had to be improved by British Intelligence before their signals could even reach Germany. This was a highly sophisticated operation as information transmitted to the Abwehr had to follow a consistent pattern. To control and co-ordinate this operation the XX Committee was set up. XX - Double Cross. Eventually all German spies were controlled by British Intelligence and a highly successful disinformation/information service established.

Apart from Ultra and Double Cross, the Allies also utilised a successful policy of political manipulation to best suit the Allied cause. The most important characters involved in the task were Sir William Stephenson (Known as "Intrepid") on the British side, and the American General "Wild Bill" Donovan.

A typical scenario of a "Secret War" operation might be as follows :

Several examples of the success of the Allies in the Secret War were provided :

During the climax of the Battle of Britain, Ultra provided important information that ravealed that the Germans had exhausted their resources. Consequently the British were able to commit their last reserves and hence win the battle. Two days later Ultra intercepted a signal authorising the dismantling of paratroop loading equipment on Dutch airfields. The British now knew that operation Sea-Lion (the German invasion of Britain) was abandoned.

When it became known through Ultra that the Germans intended to invade Russia, Churchill and Roosevelt decided that the best way to help the Russians, without divulging the secret of Ultra, was to delay the attack as much as possible. A carefully orchestrated publicity campagn was followed with the intention of provoking Hitler into entering into a war in the Balkans and Greece in order to secure the German right flank. On 6th April 1941 Hitler attacked. The result - a 38 day delay in launching the invasion of Russia. This delay prevented the Germans from defeating the Russians before winter set in and the eventual defeat of Hitler.

An extensive intelligence operation was set up in Switzerland by the British with the intention of camouflaging the real source of information being provided to the Russians - Ultra. Amongst others, Lucy (Rudolf Rossiter) informed the Russians of the German offensive date, ordor of battle, strengths and objectives in the battle for the Kursk salient. The Russians never knew much of the information was coming from London.

Other notable successes by the Allies in the Secret War were the sinking of the Bismark (with substantial US involvement seven months prior to America entering the war), the provoked pre-emptive German declaration of war against the USA, the invasion of Sicily and the Battle of the Atlantic.

Major Hall concluded his lecture with the observation that intelligence on its own did not win the war and that in no way can one detract from the importance of the work done by the fighting men. However, intelligence certainly helped considerably.

Mr. Mike Marsh thanked Major Hall for the extremely well presented and intriguing talk.

Future Meetings

Johannesburg - Thursday, 11th October 20h00
"First Shaba War, Zaire" Professor Deon Fourie

Battlefield Tour

The Museum is to organise a weekend tour to the battlefields of the Ladysmith area on 16th - 18th November. Departure is expected to be at approximately midday on Friday 16th November.

Stewart Stiles

(609-8621 - Business/ 783-1383 - Home).

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