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 The Secret Side of Wars

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Priscilla
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PostSubject: The Secret Side of Wars   Sun 13 Sep 2015, 15:51

Today I read a review of Max Hastings' latest book and it seems he writes that resistance and the secret  side of espionage and code breaking and such were not as important in the final result of WW2 as being more related to Hitler' strategies and his inability to take advice. That brought on considerable morning discussion in this house. What do board memberrs think of this notion? I had better read  the book!
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Anglo-Norman
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PostSubject: Re: The Secret Side of Wars   Mon 28 Sep 2015, 21:44

I'm not sure I know enough to make a judgement. I have heard it argued, though, that the code breaking work at Bletchley Park was not as important as often made out, since so much of the information was already out of date by the time it was decrypted. Judgements on the importance of Hitler's direct input seem to fluctuate: for example, traditionally it was said that the Me 262 was delayed because of Hitler's insistence on converting it into a bomber (even though he already had a more than adequate, purpose-built jet bomber in the Arado 234). More recently, though, greater emphasis has been placed on technological issues, such as problems with the engines.
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Mutatis Mutandis
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PostSubject: Re: The Secret Side of Wars   Mon 05 Oct 2015, 23:02

I'll have to read Max Hasting's latest work myself, typically his work is a good read and informative. But it is difficult to be comprehensive on such a topic.

You won't find a smoking gun indicating that this or that battle was won exclusively because of Ultra (or breaking of the Japanese or Italian codes) because the Allies carefully avoided using it that way. It would have given away the advantage. And besides, it is in the nature of intelligence that its effect is cumulative, and information from Ultra and espionage was combined with other sources such as photo-reconnaissance. What is undoubtedly true is that for most of the war, Allied intelligence was far superior to Axis intelligence, and thus was a contributory factor to the success of Allied war plans. Not that Axis intelligence services did not have tactical successes, including the breaking of Allied codes, but their strategic intelligence was very poor. Major Axis intelligence failures occurred during the Battle of Britain, the D-day landings, and several Soviet offensives on the Eastern front, everytime with disastrous  consequences. Allied intelligence has a much better record and Ultra helped a lot.

One should not underestimate the importance of strategic and long term intelligence, of reading the enemy's intentions -- or not. Pearl Harbour is perhaps the most obvious and notorious example: The local US commanders had at their disposal all the potential advantages of a state-of-the-art air defence system, a large fleet, and significant reconnaissance and intelligence resources. And then the unthinkable happened and they were not prepared for it. Less well known is "Weserübung", the German invasion of Norway and Denmark in 1940, which took the Allies completely by surprise although they themselves were planning an intervention in Scandinavia. 

As to the role of Hitler's decisions, the Führer was the archetypical military amateur and airmchair general, big on weapons systems, but ignorant of logistics. He probably was not without talent, as attested by general officers who worked with him. In early years his sense of urgency, his willingness to take enormous risks, and his penchant for the unconventional probably worked for him and contributed to German victories. In later years his blindness for the finiteness of German resources, his callous waste of good soldiers for goals of no lasting value, his theatricality and interference in all levels of command definitely contributed to Germany's defeat and destruction. I think a good case could be made that Hitler himself was a major cause of the defeat of the axis and more harmful to it than Allied intelligence efforts were.
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PostSubject: Re: The Secret Side of Wars   Tue 06 Oct 2015, 18:54

@Mutatis Mutandis wrote:

One should not underestimate the importance of strategic and long term intelligence, of reading the enemy's intentions -- or not. Pearl Harbour is perhaps the most obvious and notorious example: The local US commanders had at their disposal all the potential advantages of a state-of-the-art air defence system, a large fleet, and significant reconnaissance and intelligence resources. And then the unthinkable happened and they were not prepared for it.

A significant part of the success of Operation Drumbeat (the U-Boat attack on the USA 1941-42) was down not so much to a failure of intelligence as a failure to believe intelligence. The US Admiral overseeing defence against such operations was arrogant and Anglophobic - he refused to believe that the Germans could carry out their plan, and ignored British intelligence that the 'Drumbeaters' were en route (as well as ignoring their advice on how to deal with the threat). When they finally arrived the Americans were hopelessly ill-prepared: ships were not in convoy and sailing with their lights on, there was no coastal blackout, the Navy and Air Force were desperately short of craft suitable for submarine hunting... It's little wonder that the Germans came to refer to Drumbeat as 'the Atlantic Turkey Shoot'.
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Mutatis Mutandis
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PostSubject: Re: The Secret Side of Wars   Tue 06 Oct 2015, 23:27

The Kriegsmarine was the German service with the highest awareness of communications security, and twice (in late 1941 and early 1943) they launched investigations into the possibility that Enigma -- more precisely, the enhanced naval version of it -- had been compromised and was responsible for a period of lack of success in U-Boot operations. Ratcliff gives a good summary in "Delusions of Intelligence", but basically the naval intelligence service systematically "explained away" signs that Enigma M messages might had been read by the enemy, blaming spies, leaks, and (real) British superiority in radar and direction finding. 

They did not believe that Enigma was unbreakable, only that such break-ins would be rare events limited by the trial-and-error processing of every possible setting. And significantly, they made the assumption, which was simply wrong, that any deciphered signals would only be of short-term tactical value and that as these had to be a rare occurence, it was not of fundamental importance. Thus they comforted / tricked themselves into assuming that even occasional evidence, or at least strong hints, of Allied Enigma decipherments were of no great concern.

Somewhat ironically, X-B-Dienst also concluded that German ciphers were safe because any such codebreaking was not mentioned in the Allied messages that it was itself decrypting, and surely, if the British could read the German messages, they would thereby realize that their own cryptography had been broken into? It remained unfazed when the Allied codes were changed.
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Triceratops
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PostSubject: Re: The Secret Side of Wars   Thu 08 Oct 2015, 10:06

@Priscilla wrote:
Today I read a review of Max Hastings' latest book and it seems he writes that resistance and the secret  side of espionage and code breaking and such were not as important in the final result of WW2 as being more related to Hitler' strategies and his inability to take advice. That brought on considerable morning discussion in this house. What do board memberrs think of this notion? I had better read  the book!



Not code breaking as such, but deception plans like Operation Fortitude ( tricking the Germans into thinking D-Day would be in the Pas de Calais, and the Normandy landings were a feint) were highly successful and definitely contributed to the Allied war effort.


The Russians have a word for this type of operations, Maskirovka.
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PostSubject: Re: The Secret Side of Wars   Fri 23 Oct 2015, 14:18

Cold War rather than WW2, news article on the disappearance of "Buster" Crabbe;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-34605107
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