Alvarez, David (editor). Allied and Axis Signals Intelligence in World War II. London: Frank Cass, 1999
Foreword; Notes; About the Contributors; Abstracts; Index
Since RAF Group Captain F. W. Winterbotham's stunning -- although incomplete and not always accurate -- revelations about Enigma and Ultra (the German coding machines and intelligence gained from breaking that system) in The Ultra Secret in 1974, historians have struggled to obtain full access to hitherto inaccessibly classified wartime intelligence files and, given the secrets contained therein, reinterpret the generally accepted story of World War II. The files pried loose from the British and American governments in particular prove that while Ultra might be the most exciting area of research in the field of Signals Intelligence, there is still much to learn about other, less familiar code systems and how they were penetrated and exploited, including "Magic" intelligence gathered from the Japanese.
In this volume, historian David Alvarez has gathered ten essays from leaders in the field of WWII Sigint research. While each individual piece tends to focus on a very narrow and specific aspect of the broader topic, taken together they offer a general notion of what is currently known -- and, to some extent, what seems to remain hidden -- about Signals Intelligence in the Second World War.
Axis Sigint Collaboration: A Limited Partnership
by David Alvarez
Reviews German collaboration with Hungary, Italy, Finland, Japan, and other
friendly nations before and during the war. Briefly assesses Sigint
capabilities of each partner (with Finland in particular being highly
regarded by the Germans). Many hints about important systems being broken
and read. Notes that Turkish traffic was perhaps the most widely penetrated
of all major nations. Interestingly, by the end of 1942 certain American
diplomatic codes were so widely read and the messages so freely passed
around by the Axis that US codebreakers used enemy retransmissions of
broken State Department signals as "cribs" into various Axis code systems.
Automating American Cryptanalysis
by Colin Burke
Despite America's reputation for mechanization and automation, the U.S. was
unable to take full advantage of electronic and electro-mechanical
code-breaking devices until late in the war when the urgency of the task
had largely abated. Follows the development of such systems, reviews their
technical design and construction, analyzes successes and failures, and
places the process within the context of the ebb and flow of the war in
general and overall Sigint developments in particular.
Signals Intelligence in Australia during the Pacific War
Follows pre-war British monitoring of Japanese communications and tracks
the Allied Sigint effort based in Australia. After December 1941 this was
largely an American-run operation, but included a fully integrated and
highly competent team of Aussies. Describes organization and functioning of
the various Sigint teams, among them the Australian "Wireless Units".
Covers codebreaking, direction finding, traffic analysis, and how the
resultant intelligence was actually put to use, including notes about the
Australian intercept of Yamamato's itinerary which enabled American
fighters to ambush his aircraft.
New Evidence on Breaking the Japanese Army Codes
Edward J. Drea and Joseph E. Richard
One of the best essays in the volume. Details about the Japanese Army code
system, down to the color of the covers of the codebooks. Excellent
information on how the systems were gradually cracked, including the
tardiness with which the Japanese reacted to potential flaws in their
system and the fatal use of old codes -- already penetrated by the Allies
-- to transmit details of new codes to isolated forces, thus allowing the
new codes to be broken. Very interesting material about capturing Japanese
codebooks. In at least one case, the Allies intercepted and decrypted a
message about codebooks "missing" aboard a sunken barge (which had actually
been bombed and destroyed as the result of other Sigint success) in Aitape
harbor; this information led to the successful American recovery of the
"lost" codebooks and further Sigint penetrations of Japanese codes.
The 'Usual Source': Signals Intelligence and Planning for the Eighth
Army 'Crusader' Offensive, 1941
A lengthy and very detailed account of how Sigint affected the planning and
outcome of Operation Crusader. Much about Brigadier Eric John Shearer, head
of General Staff Intelligence at GHQ Middle East. Many of his
contemporaries placed much of the blame for British misfortunes in North Africa squarely
in his lap, but Ferris shows that he actually drew mostly the right
conclusions -- although not always for the right reasons -- from signals
intelligence and other sources. Follows the shaping of Crusader as GSI
carefully gleans information about Axis strength and intentions from
various sources. Interesting evaluation of the relationship between
Churchill's demands for an offensive and Shearer's forecasts about
Cautious Collaborators: The Struggle for Anglo-American Cryptanalytic
Lee A. Gladwin
One of the stuffier essays. Gladwin delves into the process -- thick with
mistrust, uncertainty, and reservations on both sides -- by which the Yanks
and Brits finally came to share a remarkably close degree of collaboration
in Sigint matters. Makes use of some new materials not available to Bradley
Smith when he wrote The Ultra-Magic Deals and the Most Secret Special
Relationship which covers similar territory.
Searching for Security: The German Investigations into Enigma's
R. A. Ratcliff
This insightful piece sheds much light on German complacency concerning the
penetration of their Enigma codes by the Allies. Despite numerous clues
that something was seriously amiss, repeated internal investigations found
no reason to believe that anyone could possible crack the system. Describes
how -- partly due to the fragmented and isolated nature of the German
intelligence services and partly due to an unwillingness to believe Enigma
was vulnerable -- official inquiries managed to explain away evidence that
the Allies were reading German signals.
New Intelligence Releases: A British Side to the Story
Bradley F. Smith
Brief notes about the current state of declassification of wartime
intelligence records and information on the mechanics of locating newly
released documents in the Public Record Office in Kew. Least substantial of
Signals Intelligence and Vichy France, 1940-44: Intelligence in
Begins with the state of French intelligence services at the outbreak of
war and follows them, and their personnel, through their relationships with
the Germans, the Allies, the Vichy government, and the Free French. A
surprisingly significant proportion of key intelligence agencies survived
the 1940 collapse and armistice intact, partly due to careful concealment
by protective officers and politicians. Although some Sigint resources were
deployed against the Allies, notably for the protection of French colonies,
for the most part Germany was still considered the ultimate opponent
against whom the French intelligence teams devoted most of their efforts.
Reveals how French agencies routinely relayed intercepted German military
traffic from Vichy to Allied contacts in England.
Chinese Codebreakers, 1927-45
In this essay on a little-known facet of the Chinese war effort, Yu raises
the curtain on Chiang Kai-shek's Signit apparatus. Split by political and
bureaucratic rivalries, multiple agencies attempted independently to crack
Japanese military codes, mostly without success until China hired the
famous (or infamous) American expert Herbert Yardley to lead its efforts.
(Elsewhere in this volume, by coincidence, it is explained how American
agencies refused to provide much Sigint material or assistance to China so
long as Yardley remained in their employ.) Yu claims for the Chinese
substantial successes by 1942 to the extent that they warned -- but were
ignored -- about specific Japanese air raids in Burma and later were tricked
into sending a team of cryptanalysts to India in order that the British
could surreptitiously acquire Chinese techniques for breaking Japanese codes.
Despite some unevenness -- several of these pieces are excellent while a couple are rather weak -- in sum this is a terrific collection of Sigint essays. However, that praise must be slightly qualified. That is, to a certain extent, many of these essays seem to be aimed at those already familiar with the field: in some cases basic background and definitions are in short supply and in other cases tantalizing facts are tossed into the text without further explanation, as though they are common knowledge. In that sense, while it's still possible to highly recommend this volume, it definitely serves for interested readers more as a beginning point for further exploration than as a detailed, comprehensive survey of the vast, complicated, and shadowy history of Signals Intelligence in World War II.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Frank Cass. Distributed in the US by International Specialized Book Services.
Thanks to Cass and ISBS
for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 11 October 1999
Copyright © 1999 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone