Sunday, June 30, 2013

WWII Myths – The Me262 jet fighter and the dumb Fuehrer

One WWII myth that still endures to this day is that the production of the revolutionary Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter was fatally delayed by Hitler’s insistence that it be modified to carry bombs.

The Me262 was the first operational jet fighter and its engines gave it a massive advantage in speed versus the propeller driven aircraft used in WWII. This miracle weapon was expected to turn the tides of the war in the air. However according to the standard accounts Hitler instead wanted to use it as a bomber. This meant that lengthy modifications had to be made and so much time was lost than when it finally went into mass production the war was almost over.

For example Field Marshall Erhard Milch who was in charge of aircraft production says in his memoirs ‘The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe: The Life of Field Marshall Erhard Milch’, p316 ‘In desperation the field marshal appealed to Hitler to think again, but he was subjected to a torrent of abuse; and before he could control himself he shouted back, ‘Mein Führer, the smallest infant can see that this is a fighter, not a bomber aircraft!
This story is satisfying on an emotional level as it has the dumb dictator who doesn’t listen to anyone and a miracle weapon that could have changed the outcome of the war. However both parts are wrong.  

According to ‘The Last Year Of The Luftwaffe: May 1944-May 1945’ by aviation historian Alfred Price, p147-8:
There can be no doubt that if it had gone into action in sufficient numbers in the fighter role, the Me 262 could have brought to a halt the daylight attacks on German industry by B-17s and B-24s. In May 1944 it had seemed that the large-scale operational use of the Me 262 was imminent. Components for airframes were being turned out in large numbers at numerous small factories dispersed throughout the country, and final assembly of Me 262s was moving ahead rapidly. The restricting factor was the Jumo 004 engine that powered the new fighter. The 004 was the first turbojet engine in the world to enter pilot production and initially its average running life was only about 10hr. That was too low for general service use, and until it was improved the design could not be frozen for mass production to begin. When engineers face technical problems never previously encountered, it is impossible to predict how long it will take to find a solution - hence the over-optimistic noises being made in May 1944 on when the 004 would be ready for mass production……………………………………………. It has become part of the accepted wisdom about the Luftwaffe that Hitler's decision was instrumental in preventing the large-scale deployment of the Me 262 in the fighter force. In fact his edict was not the main reason, or even a major reason, for the failure to deploy the fighter in the hoped-for numbers. Not until August 1944 was the average running life of the 004 jet engine raised to 25hr; that was still a very low figure, but it meant that the design could be frozen and mass production could begin. In September Hitler rescinded his order that all new Me 262s be delivered as fighter-bombers. By then more than a hundred fighter airframes were sitting around without engines, and as soon as 004s became available these aircraft were completed and delivered to the Luftwaffe. In fact Hitler's order delayed the introduction of the Me 262 into service in the fighter role by only about three weeks. For the real reason for the failure to deploy the fighter in large numbers, we must look elsewhere.

As a completely new combat aircraft, the Me 262 suffered its share of teething troubles when it entered service. Despite energetic efforts to eradicate these, serviceability was poor and its sortie rate was correspondingly low during the latter part of 1944.
The author also finds Hitler’s idea to turn the Me262 into a fast bomber reasonable:

Much has been written about the delay to the Me 262 programme supposedly imposed by Hitler's edict that initially the aircraft be used as a fighter-bomber rather than an air defence fighter. Few commentators have considered the possibility that Hitler's edict might have been correct in military terms, and this author believes it was. If the Allied landings in Normandy had run into serious difficulties - as actually happened to American troops coming ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day - repeated bombing and strafing attacks from a few score Me 262s could have tipped the balance and changed the operation from one that just succeeded to one that failed with heavy loss of life. If the jet aircraft were available only in small numbers they were better employed as fighter-bombers against the beach-head than in high-altitude jousts with Allied fighters aloof from the troops coming ashore. Yet the point is purely academic, for in June 1944 the Me 262 was quite unready for operations in any role.
For comparison’s sake an Arado Ar 234 prototype was able to penetrate Allied fighter defenses and take detailed pictures of the Normandy beaches on August 2nd 1944, thus performing a task that the entire recon force in the West was not capable of.

Note: Me262 picture available from Wikipedia Commons user Softeis

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Save the rich

After all the negativity in the news with NSA spying and economic crises it’s time for something funny to uplift our spirits.

Here is ‘Save the Rich by Garfunkel and Oates’

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

wikipedia plagiarism

My friends at Wikipedia have decided to include parts of my work on their T-34 page.

However instead of mentioning my site they copied the AFV strength statistics from my piece Tank strength and losses – Eastern Front and just state ‘Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voina 1941-45. Dejstvuyushchaya Armiya’ and ‘Jentz, Thomas L. Panzertruppen: The Complete Guide to the Creation and Combat Employment of Germany's Tank Force, 1933-1942

The person who copied the statistics obviously didn’t understand that the German figures are based on several books, not only Jentz’s and in some cases are basically my guesstimates.

I left a message at the talk page and will wait to see if they do something about this!

Regarding the Snowden case

As you’ve probably heard the NSA is spying on all of us. They intercept everything and they plan to keep it forever in their databases. The reason I haven’t commented more on this is that I thought people already knew what was going on.

The NSA (and the similar agencies in other countries) can take advantage of the proliferation of new technologies. Back when people wrote letters they needed to physically open them and copy the contents. Now with computers and email it can be done automatically.
It used to be that each house had one phone and ‘taping’ the line was a complicated operation. Now we all have mobile phones and they are easy to compromise, it can be done automatically.

You really thought that the NSA had a budget of several billion dollars and tens of thousands of personnel in order to spy on a few goat herders in Afghanistan?

Can you protect yourself with encryption? We already know that NSA technicians worked with Microsoft in order to make Windows more ‘secure’ and it seems reasonable to assume that they have a similar relationship with Intel. So both PC hardware and software is compromised at the source. We also know that the largest internet companies work with them...

In the end all this information gives the NSA (and similar agencies) the opportunity to become a Super-Gestapo. What can a person do to prevent this? I simply don’t know.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book review – British Intelligence in the Second World War

In the 1970’s the first books came out that revealed how in WWII the Allied codebreakers were able to solve the German Enigma cipher machine (and other systems). Those early books were written without access to all the official documents and many of the things they claimed were incorrect. They also greatly exaggerated the effects of codebreaking on the various campaigns of the war.

Unfortunately historians have mostly relied on those early books so most history books continue to claim that the Allies won specific battles or campaigns because they could read German messages etc.
If you are looking for a more reliable analysis of the role that secret intelligence played in WWII then you need to read the official ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War’ volumes:

Volume I: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations, 1979

Volume II: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations, 1981

Volume III, Part 1: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations, 1984

Volume III, Part 2: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations, 1988

Volume IV: Security and Counter-Intelligence, 1990

Volume V: Strategic Deception, 1990

These books are large and heavy with many chapters and appendices, covering all the campaigns of the war and the role that intelligence played.
They’re also out of print so you’ll have to go to a used books store and be prepared to pay a premium. If you do get hold of them however you will undoubtedly be impressed by their scope and analysis.

The first four books on operations each cover a specific time period. There are separate chapters for the organization of the intelligence agencies, economic and strategic assessments and of course the role that intelligence played in the actual campaigns. Volume 4 deals with internal security, ‘double’ agents and the operations of the Abwehr and the Sicherheitsdienst. At this time I haven’t gone through the fifth volume.


1). The first volume covers prewar intelligence arrangements and ends with operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941. The campaigns of Norway, France, Battle of Britain, Battle of the Atlantic, the Balkans and N.Africa are covered. Among the most interesting appendixes are: appendix 1 which covers the Polish and French contribution to the solution of the Enigma machine (with mistakes that were corrected in vol3), appendix 9 ‘Intelligence in advance of the GAF raid on Coventry’ and  appendix 11 ‘GAF Navigational Aids’.

2). The second volume covers the British strategic assessments from mid ’41 to mid ’43, the War at sea up to summer ‘43 and most importantly the North African campaign from July 1941 till the fall of Tunisia. Some of the appendices have interesting information on the security of British ciphers (appendix 1), the German police ciphers (appendix 5), the British assessment of German tanks and A/T guns (appendix 14) and the compromise of the initial German plan for the battle of Kursk (appendix 22).

3). Volume 3 part 1 has the strategic assessments from June ’43 to June ’44, the British assessments of the German war economy, the Italian campaign, the developments in occupied Yugoslavia (Chetnik-Partisan conflict), the War at sea from summer ’43 to summer ’44, the air war in the West and the intelligence on the V-weapons (V1 flying bomb and V2 rocket). There is interesting information in appendix 2 describing the solution of the Tunny teleprinter, in appendix 4 ‘Intelligence estimates and German statistics on the German war economy’, in appendix 10 ‘’German anxieties about Allied ability to locate U-boats’ and appendix 16 ‘Decrypt of the Japanese ambassador’s report to the foreign ministry Tokyo of his interview with Field Marshal Milch in Berlin, 17 August 1943’.

4). Volume 3 part 2 is the largest book (1.038 pages!) and covers the planning and execution of operation ‘Overlord’, the fighting in the Eastern Front, the Italian campaign, the War at sea and the Allied strategic bombing offensive up to the defeat of Germany. There is interesting information in appendix 9 ‘Intelligence on Germany’s reinforcement of the Cotentin peninsula and its effects on First US Army’s operational plans’, appendix 10 ‘Allied intelligence on German divisions on the Eve of D-day’, appendix 14 ‘Intelligence relating to 21st Panzer division and 352nd Infantry division up to D-day’, appendix 26 ‘Intelligence on the Axis oil situation up to the summer of 1944’, appendix 29 ‘TA project: Enemy intelligence’ (nuclear weapons research) and appendix 30 ‘Polish, French and British contribution to the breaking of the Enigma: A revised account’.

5). Volume 4 is smaller in size than the previous books but it has interesting information on the counterintelligence operations of the British security services in the UK and abroad. In 1940 the sudden German successes in Norway and France led to the belief that a vast underground network of spies, saboteurs and collaborators had assisted the German forces. This led to a ‘Fifth column’ panic with the authorities fearing that such a network might be operational in the UK. In reality the actual German spy network was very small and was quickly rounded up by MI-5. Attempts of the Abwehr to insert spies were so clumsy that they all failed. The Brits not only arrested the German spies and interrogated them but in many cases they were able to use them in radio-games and thus transmit false information to the Abwehr.  Things were not as easy abroad as the German agencies were assisted in their work by friendly foreign governments, for example in Spain. Codebreaking played a major role in uncovering the German spy networks in neutral countries since in 1940-41 the hand cipher and the Enigma machine used by the Abwehr were ‘broken’ and their communications could be read. Interesting information is included in the appendices, especially appendix 1 which has an overview of the Abwehr and the Sicherheitsdienst and appendix 14 dealing with the resistance leader turned double agent Christiaan Lindemans.

As in all books there are some small mistakes (or white lies) especially regarding the influence of codebreaking on actual operations (for example on the sinking of Rommel’s supplies). However these are nothing compared to the monstrosities that one reads in other history books.
Overall the ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War’ volumes remain the most authoritative source on signals intelligence in WWII.

Friday, June 21, 2013

WWII Myths – Hitler should have [insert dumb idea]

One of the problems of WWII historiography is the belief that things would have happened differently if it wasn’t for Hitler messing things up.

How many mistakes he (supposedly) made… From halting the tanks at Dunkirk, to antagonizing the Russian population that would like nothing more than to fight against the communists, refusing to allow retreats, refusing to listen to his generals etc etc

Add your own dumb alternative strategy in the comments and I’ll try to debunk it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


I added the title of SRH-368 in WWII Myths - U-boat tankers and ULTRA intelligence, which is Evaluation of the Role of Decryption Intelligence in the Operational Phase of the Battle of the Atlantic, U.S. Navy OEG Report #68, 1952’.


I added the following part in The British War Office Cypher:

The official history ‘British intelligence in the Second World War’ vol2, p298 says:
If under-estimation of the quality of Rommel's equipment was one reason why British confidence was high when the Crusader offensive began, another was the failure to allow for the efficiency of his field intelligence. By August 1941 the Germans were regularly reading the War Office high-grade hand cypher which carried a good deal of Eighth Army's W/T traffic down to division level, and they continued to do so until January 1942. Until then, when their success was progressively reduced by British improvements to the recyphering system, whereas GC and CS's success against the German Army Enigma continued to expand, this cypher provided them with at least as much intelligence about Eighth Army's strengths and order of battle as Eighth Army was obtaining about those of Rommel's forces.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

More information on the German war economy

I’ve already had a look at the German war economy and whether it was ‘mismanaged’ here. For those of you that want to read more check out these articles:

1). From Economic History Review: ’Fixed-price contracts, learning, and outsourcing: explaining the continuous growth of output and labour productivity in the German aircraft industry during the Second World War’ By Lutz Budrass, Jonas Scherner, and Jochen Streb. This is basically the same article as ‘Demystifying the German “armament miracle’’ but with additional information on outsourcing.

Summary: ‘In this article it is claimed that, at least in the aircraft industry, the development of German armament production and productivity was much more continuous than Wagenführ's armament index and both the Blitzkrieg thesis and the inefficiency thesis suggest. In order to prove this new thesis of continuity, we show on the basis of firm-level data, firstly, that investment in production capacities had already started before the war and was especially high in the early phase of the war, and secondly, that the regulatory setting of aircraft production management was rather constant and was not dramatically changed after 1941. In addition, we demonstrate that the driving forces of productivity growth were primarily learning-by-doing and outsourcing, the latter being generally neglected by economic historians.

2). ‘Industrial Investment in Nazi Germany: The Forgotten Wartime Boom’ by Jonas Scherner.

Summary: ‘To date we lack reliable data on the level of industrial investment in the Third Reich. In addition our overall knowledge of the quantitative significance of the war-related branches – autarky and armaments industries – is extremely patchy. And yet, a precise knowledge of these figures is clearly crucial if we are to arrive at a proper characterization of the political economy of the Third Reich. Investment strategies with their long-run implications for industrial output are particularly revealing as to the debate about a Blitzkrieg strategy supposedly pursued by Hitler’s Germany early in the war. Furthermore, investment data may play a crucial part in demystifying Albert Speer’s so-called armaments miracle, about which it is commonly claimed that it depended on intensive rather than extensive growth. This paper, based on largely unknown sources, attempts to fill this gap, providing figure for industrial investment for the entire period between 1936 and 1944. It will be shown that actual investment was substantially larger after 1938 than has hitherto been recognized. The paper will also present detailed estimates for investment in armaments and autarky industries for the period 1934- 1943. These show that during the period 1940-1942 Germany experienced a spectacular investment boom, primarily directed towards widening the industrial base for war. This clearly should have substantial implications for the historiography, since it calls into question both the Blitzkrieg narrative and the conventional view of the armaments miracle.

Summary: ‘Today, most scholars agree that Nazi Germany did not follow a premeditated Blitzkrieg strategy in the late 1930s and at the beginning of the Second World War. However, the question of the extent to which Germany’s economy had been prepared for a longer war is still debated because statistical information on Germany’s investment pattern is fragmentary and data on the structure of prewar German military expenditure are not available. Relying on newly discovered sources, this article closes these gaps.The Nazi regime clearly shifted its investment towards preparation for war from the mid-1930s on, and though armaments purchases stagnated during the period from 1937 to 1939, investment in munitions industries grew considerably. Consequently, during the late 1930s the Nazis pursued a ‘sustainable’ rearmament strategy necessary for fighting a longer war. Yet, despite massive capacity enlargements in the munitions industries, total German investment was not unusually high by today’s definition because contemporary figures included a significant amount of armaments purchases.

George Washington goes Spartan

Some things are too funny to pass up:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Another look at the reliability of the TICOM reports

I’ve already had a look at the reliability of the TICOM reports regarding the successes of the German codebreakers.

Going through some of my files I’ve noticed another clear cut case. Regarding Polish diplomatic codes we have the following statements from report I-63 ‘Interrogation Report on ORR Herrmann Scherschmidt of, Pers Z S, Auswaertiges Amt’, p3
‘5.Polish Systems:

Scherschmidt worked entirely on diplomatic traffic and was not familiar with military or agent systems or with any successes achieved on them. He had dabbled in Polish throughout his Pers Z S career and early in 1939 he was assigned to the main diplomatic code of the Polish Foreign Office. This had been in force since 1934, and some unsuccessful research had been done in an effort to ascertain the encipherment used. The problem was given a very high priority in 1939 and Scherschmidt had first class assistance. With the aid of a captured specimen of encipherment and a captured description of the indicator system, the first message was read early in 1940. The code was recovered gradually, and in 1941 and 1942 all messages was read, most of them currently. The code went out of use in October 1942 and was replaced by a letter code. Scherschmidt did a little work on this at first but did not come back to the problem later. He said the code was never solved, and he did not know details of the attacks made on it by KUNZE and others.’

(Note that I’ve used the I-63 file from NARA that has been uploaded by the TICOM Archive site. My copy from the British Archives has parts redacted.)

Can this information be verified from some other source? The answer is yes.
The Cryptologia article ‘From the Archives: Polish Interwar MFA's Cipher Compromised?’ by Jan Bury presents two report written by Polish intelligence official Major Tadeusz Szumowski in 1940 and 1946-7 that verify the compromise of the Polish diplomatic code.

According to Szumowski the Poles had introduced the diplomatic ‘Code 45’ in 1933 and were aware that it might have been compromised. These suspicions became certainties when the British and French ambassadors in Berlin (Coulondre and Henderson) told them that they shouldn’t use this code when sending messages to them.

In April 1939 the Poles received another warning this time from Major Bartik, former chief of the Czech Counter Intelligence, regarding the compromise of their code.
This prompted the Polish leadership to authorize the use of a new code. Using trusted personnel a new letter code was prepared and printed and it ready for distribution in May 1940 but this operation was halted by Jan Ciechanowski the secretary general of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government-in-Exile. 

This act, according to Szumowski, amounted to treason:
These circumstances can hardly be explained by indolence and thoughtlessness at the MFA. This is rather negligence, which during the war is close to high treason and requires exemplary punishment. Personally I would be close to assuming that Mr Ciechanowski, considering the fact than an army officer [i.e. Szumowski] took care of the [development of the] cipher, was afraid the military could read the MFA’s messages, although he did not realize this was impossible knowing the cipher used unique tables.

Eventually the new code ‘Alpha’ was distributed to posts abroad (first in the embassies in Paris, Rome and Bern) but the old ‘Code 45’ continued to be used by many other posts worldwide till end of ’42 when ‘Code 50’ was introduced. (Note that ‘Alpha’ and Code 50’ are also mentioned in the British report "Polish Cyphers 1942-1945", write-up by Jones-Williams (Berkeley St.))
If we compare the statements in I-63 with the Cryptologia article we see that the information is a perfect match. TICOM I-63 says that the Polish main diplomatic code was used since 1934, while the article says it was introduced in mid 1933. The Germans read it till end ’42 when the new letter code was introduced. Again this is verified from the article which refers to ‘Alpha’ and ‘Code 50’.

The reports by Szumowski allow us to answer an important question. In I-63 it is stated ‘The problem was given a very high priority in 1939 and Scherschmidt had first class assistance. With the aid of a captured specimen of encipherment and a captured description of the indicator system, the first message was read early in 1940’

I’ve wondered of how the Germans got hold of those documents. According to Szumowski the Czechs had this information and they were able to decode Polish communications in the late 30’s. When the Germans occupied the country in March 1939 they obviously found some of the secret Czech archives. That is why he was warned in 1939 by the Czech officials…

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

British report on Hitler assassination attempts

File FO 1093/288 is available from the British National archives. It can be downloaded for free if you create an account.

It has a report written by SS Obersturmbannführer Kappler on Elser who attempted to blow up Hitler in 1939. Kappler was his interrogator and he was convinced that he acted alone.

There is also another report by Hans Bernd Gisevius, giving an overview of the Resistance against Hitler in the military and political circles from the 1930’s till 1944.

Reference found through WW2 Talk forum.

Monday, June 3, 2013

German interest in Portuguese cipher machines

The cipher machines of Boris Hagelin were an alternative to the Enigma and in the 1930’s and 1940’s many countries bought them.

In 1944 the Germans had a chance to examine Hagelin machines purchased by Portugal. There were 24 large and 30 small machines being flown from Sweden to Portugal.

These were examined on 11 January 1944 at Tempelhof airport by Dr Erich Huettenhain (chief cryptanalyst of OKW/Chi), Dr Karl Stein (a member of the cipher security department) and Rotscheidt (an engineer in charge of development of cryptanalytic machinery)

 Source: TICOM report D-60 ‘Miscellaneous Papers from a file of RR Dr. Huettenhain of OKW/Chi’, p2-3