World War II brought with it many new advances in the art of warfare, which helped and at times led to the fooling of various commanders in the field. One of the most important developments during this conflict was the use of intelligence and deception. Whereas before this conflict many military leaders were left with techniques such as scouting parties, blimps, and maybe a phone tap here or there. With the improvement in technologies governments of the world sought better ways to protect information and also more improved methods of obtaining their opponents vital strategies. Trying to achieve this latter goal often left the other side with the opportunity to pass along false information. It is the purpose of this paper to; first analyze some of the techniques and instances where intelligence played a key role in some battle or operation, and second to show the significance of deception and its effectiveness in deceiving the opponent. Although not all operations proved to be wildly successful, many proved to be game changers in the Allied war efforts against the Axis powers.
One of the greatest developments that occurred prior to World War II was the advent of code making and code breaking. Although not as flashy and interesting as the Cloak & Dagger spies that movies have made famous, intelligence analyst played a far greater role than most would suspect. Ronald H. Spector sheds light on this fact in Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan:
“More often it was hollow-eyed, unshaven cryptologist or photo-
reconnaissance analyst deep in a basement or windowless room,
surrounded by the clack of IBM sorters and tabulator machines or
the stench of darkroom chemicals-it was men (and women) of this
sort who were the intelligence aces of World War II.”
It was analyst such as this that could have, with a little more concern from their superiors, prevented much of the damage the Japanese inflicted on the unprepared forces of Pearl Harbor.
The real beginnings of American attempts to break potential combatant countries codes started with the formation of the Signal Intelligence Service in 1929. Headed by William F. Friedman the SIS was able to rebuild a replica of the Japanese code machine and by late 1940 they were able to read almost all of Japan’s code ‘Purple’ diplomatic messages. Although authors such as Ronald Lewin quote General Marshall in The American Magic as saying that, “Operations in the Pacific are largely guided by the information we obtain of Japanese deployments. We know their strength in various garrisons, the rations and other stores continuing available to them, and what is of vast importance, we check their fleet movements and the movements of their convoys.” It appears evident that code Purple messages were of far more significance than General Marshall believed.
On November 30th 1941 the cryptanalysts in Washington intercepted a message from Tokyo to Berlin informing the ambassador that war with American may come “quicker than anyone dreams”. During this same time Dutch and English Intelligence were warning of massive Japanese troops buildups in Southeast Asia. General Marshall may have believed in old fashion navy flyovers and patrol boats to gather such information, but it seems apparent that before the bombing of Pearl Harbor there was ample information available through code breaking intelligence that could have alerted the Navy and possibly saved lives. Intelligence analyst may not have ultimately been able to stop the attack on Pearl Harbor, but they did play key roles in deciphering other Japanese codes throughout the war effort.
One of the greatest examples of American intelligence success against the Japanese Navy was achieved before the battle of Midway. Although code Purple was very important in assessing the general mindset of the Japanese government, JN-25 was considered by most analysts to be the golden egg. JN-25 was the Japanese Navy’s military code in which it sent all of it orders for naval movements and attacks. This code had been around for a couple of decades by 1941, and according to Stephen Budiansky in Battle of Wits:
“Slowly and laboriously, the new code book was being reconstructed;
again, inexorably, on August 1, 1941, the Japanese introduced a
new, 50,000 group additive book that sent the code breakers back to
This setback did not deter the intelligence officers Rochefort and Layton as they went back to the drawing board and set about breaking this new codebook. And according to Stephen Budiansky on May 14, 1942 Rochefort called Layton claiming, “I’ve got something so hot here it’s burning the top of my desk!” What he had uncovered was a massive assault planned by the Japanese on Midway Island which they designated AF. The problem once again wasn’t that the intelligence was bad, but that the bureaucracy in the military inhibited the flow of information.
OP-20-G was the designation of the top intelligence office in Washington, and upon receiving the information on the probable attack on Midway they dismissed it as a Japanese ‘deception’. Those in Washington were under the false impression that the real target was the Hawaiian Islands. Furious at the meddling by OP-20-G, Rochefort approached Admiral Nimitz and asked permission to have the radio operators on Midway send an uncoded message claiming that their only means of fresh water had failed. The purpose of this operation would be to prove that AF was in fact the Japanese code for Midway. Nimitz’ agreed to the charade and the message was sent on May 19, 1942. Again according to Stephen Budiansky, “Two days later Tokyo Naval Intelligence sent a signal in JN-25 reporting that “AF Air Unit” had sent a message to Hawaii reporting it had only a two weeks’ supply of fresh water and asking for an immediate resupply.” It immediately became evident that Midway was indeed the target of the Japanese Navy, and now the Americans had a hand up on the enemy. The end result of the Battle of Midway was the Japanese Navy’s eventual withdrawal sand massive losses in aircraft carriers and planes.
On the other front of World War II there was the important efforts of the combined British and American Intelligence Services. One of the greatest test of these two allied intelligence services was that attempt to break the ever changing code of the famed Enigma machine.
The beginning of the Enigma code machine began nearly two decades before the advent of World War II. In October of 1919 a patent was filed in the Netherlands for a ‘Geheimscfriffmachine’, which was later bought by a German named Arthur Scheribus. Scheribus then, according to Charles Whiting in The Spymasters, “…designed a machine including ‘multiple switch boards which connect each arriving lead with one of the outgoing leads and which are adapted to interchange this connection with great facility of variation.” While the German inventor intended his Enigma machine to be used for business purposes, that was not to be the case. The company was liquidated soon after Hitler came to power and was reformed for the military purpose of producing a machine used to send code to commanders in the field and the infamous U-boat captains.
Once the American and British found out about the use of this encrypting machine they knew of the necessity of breaking its code. The British manned over a thousand individuals at its’ Bletchly Park facility and the Americans used Building 26 on the NCR Campus in Dayton, Ohio. Although both of these services were instrumental in the deciphering of the Enigma code, neither would have had such success if it were not for the Poles.
In Peter Calvocoressi’s Top Secret Ultra: An insiders account of how British Intelligence monitored and broke the Nazi top-secret code he states, “From 1932 to 1938 German Enigma traffic was read by the Polish secret service. The Poles were almost certainly the only people to do so in these years.” This amazing feat was soon ended as the German’s modified the machine by changing the way code was sent and by adding two extra wheels to the machine. The Polish secret service was aware of the changes, but lacked the resources to solve the problem. In an act of trust not shown often during times of war, they gave all the information they had to the British at Bletchly Park and the French equivalent. The German army soon defeated the Polish, but their help to the Allied cause was significant.
The British at Bletchly used the model Enigma machine the Pole’s had provided them and adapted it to their own Typex machine in an attempt to solve the riddle. Once they had achieved this, the tedious effort of data analysis began. Stephen Budiansky gives a great example of this when he writes:
“The other task was equally straightforward: begin cranking a cyclometer
through all 17,576 settings in all fifty-eight remaining wheel orders, note
down the ones that permit repeated letters in the doubly enciphered
indicators, and punch two new complete sets of 1,560 Zygalski sheets…”
This process was eventually replaced by what was labeled by most countries as a ‘bombe’. The British version of the bombe was “…like a series of Enigma machines in reverse.” Although highly ineffective at first, when coupled with the new bigram table, Banburismus machine, and captured daily Enigma settings the British bombe was able to break the German naval enigma code. This led, “…to a sharp decline in sinkings by U-boats in the Atlantic that began in the summer of 1941.” Although the British played a major role in breaking the Enigma code they were not alone in their efforts.
The American effort, as stated above, was located in building 26 in Ohio, and even though they were allies, there was fierce competition between the two services. According to Jim DeBrosse and Colin Burke:
“For the Navy and Desch, the race was on, not only against the Germans
and the U-boats in the Atlantic but in some ways against the British.
The Americans knew that Bletchly Park was working on its own design for
a four wheel Bombe and that their careers, their nation’s prestige, and the
Navy’s investment of millions of dollars and scores of highly skilled
personnel were at risk if they failed to arrive first at a working machine.”
Despite the competition for the prestige of having the best intelligence service, at times the British and American’s were forced to cooperate. One reason for this was the far superior quality of the American Bombe’s, and the British need to decipher Germany’s Army and Naval codes.
The United States had a choice of the two private sector companies IBM and National Cash Register Company to begin their code breaking efforts. NCR was chosen over IBM due to its available plant space and technological prowess. According to DeBrosse and Burke, “Even more propitious, NCR had at its disposal eleven city blocks of mostly idle factories and office buildings and a regional network of skilled labor and parts suppliers, all waiting to be put to work.” In early 1942 the government proceeded to authorize NCR to begin building its own ‘Bombe’.
At first the efforts were considered by many to be embarrassing, but in time those opinions would change drastically. Early in 1943 the American Bombe needed an average of twenty-five days to read the German Navy’s ‘Shark’ code, but by late that same year the time was brought down to thirty-six hours. This speed was even greater than the best the British had achieved up to that point. Disregarding their precious pride the British saw the necessity of using the much more efficient American Bombes to read the vital German military Enigma traffic. The American Bombes were about ’50 percent’ faster and again according to DeBrosse and Burke:
“The power of the 120 or so American Bombes was equal to or greater
than that of the 220 British Bombes at Bletchly Park. The British, who
were charged with attacking many more German systems than were
the Americans-including the three-wheel Army and Air Force Enigma
traffic known as Bovril-asked for time on the American Bombes.”
Although many discount the effectiveness of the breaking of the Enigma code, it is estimated by some experts that towards the end of World War II Ultra intelligence was directly responsible for up to thirty percent of all U-boats sunk.
While code breaking was a large part of the intelligence effort in World War II, it was not the Allies only means of using intelligence. Deception was a strategy put to use on a grand scale during the conflict. There are many examples of successful and failed attempts to fool the other side, but the focus here will be the deceptions leading up to the invasion of Normandy.
By 1943 Hitler suspected a cross channel invasion from England was imminent, but the question remained where would this battle take place. In order to reduce the amount of lives lost to the Allies it was decided that they needed to develop a scheme to leave Germany guessing whether the invasion would be anywhere from Norway to the Mediterranean. Originally the planned phony invasions were code named FORTITUDE and included three stages named TINDALL, STARKEY, and WADHAM. Although eventually the name for the operation was eventually changed to QUICKSILVER and divided in to six smaller parts, in the end it remained largely intact.
QUICKSILVER I and II were the most important of the deceptions and included; the false placement of the American Third Army in the East, phony radio traffic, and the movement of several corps east to mislead the Germans into thinking the invasion would take place at the Pas-de-Calais. To help pass along this information to the Third Reich the Allies used men such as the Dutchman Hans Hansen who according to William B. Bruer in Deceptions of World War II, “Hans Hansen had been captured soon after his arrival and “turned”-given a choice of being hanged or sending finely orchestrated intelligence bulletins back to Hamburg.” With over 900 messages sent from Hansen during the course of the war the Abwher was fully convinced of his loyalty.
QUICKSILVER III, V, and VI included the limited use of ‘physical deception. QUICKSILVER III would use dummy landing craft on the southeast and east coast of England, while QUICKSILVER V would show the appearance of ‘extra tunnel construction’. QUICKSILVER VI would according to Holt include, “…the tempo of seeming activity round the dummy craft on the east coast would pick up, by simulated beach lighting and vehicle lights suggesting round-the-clock busyness.” QUICKSILVER IV called for an increase in training flights in the southeast and practice air-sea rescue missions.
Although most of QUICKSILVER went according to plan, there were a few instances of failure or setbacks. QUICKSILVER III ran into the problem of some of the dummy crafts blowing away and when the simulated activity did show up it was ‘late and ineffective’. The fifth and sixth stages of the plan ran more smoothly, but still ran into small problems. Due to a disagreement on what type of lighting should be used on the real locations and the fake ones Holt writes, “…the lighting at the fake locations was brighter than at the real ones…” These problems were relatively small and didn’t effect the outcome of the whole operation, as Hitler was thoroughly caught off guard by the D-Day invasion at Normandy.
Since the ancient writings of Homer and the fall of Troy, it has been the goal of military leaders to gather information about their enemy and if possible to fool them as to their own intentions. With the increase in technology that preceded World War II these facts became more important and necessary for each side of the conflict. While some experts claim that the overall part that intelligence and deception played was a small role, if any, in the Allied victory over the Axis powers, it is beyond argument that it at the, very least saved many lives. If the Japanese had the advantage of surprise at Midway or if Hitler knew the exact locations of the landings on D-Day, the cost to both sides could have been horrific. Intelligence and Deception, as it grew out of World War II, has become a permanent fixture in military operations today and seems poised to stay that way for the indefinite future.