Make your own free website on
World War II
A Narrative History

Anthony Cave Brown
Bodyguard of Lies, Vol. 1 (1975)

Churchill and Roosevelt
General William J. Donovan had been nominated by executive order to form the organization that came to be called the Office of Strategic Services. Donovan, an Irish-American born in Buffalo in 1883, had returned from the First World War as the most decorated man in American military history. Between the wars he became deeply involved in international politics as a lawyer, and was a friend and confidant of both Churchill and Roosevelt. Ordered in 1941 to set up a central agency for gathering and evaluating secret intelligence, he began to recruit his men from the world of what he described as "a blend of Wall Street orthodoxy and sophisticated American nationalism" ....
At the highest level of command ... there would be both cooperation and admiration between the OSS and MI6. But at the lower levels there was often scorn and rivalry. The Americans, new to the game of intelligence, were regarded as amateurs by the seasoned professionals of MI6, and in some cases agents of MI-6 and the OSS in the field would find themselves in conflict for nationalistic or ideological reasons. Nevertheless, the two agencies would come to work together in a pattern of reserved cooperation, although the OSS would not play a major role in the secret war against the Third Reich until after D-Day.
In another sphere of the secret war -- cryptanalysis -- the relationship between Britain and America began on a tenuous note. Like the Poles, the French and the British, the Americans had shown an early interest in the Enigma machine. In October 1923 the military attache at the American Embassy in Berlin wrote to General Marlborough Churchill, the Chief of Intelligence of the United States Army, to report that he had "witnessed a demonstration with a working model" of Enigma. The man who had demonstrated the machine was Arthur Scherbius, the Berlin engineer who had assumed the patents from its inventor, Hugo Koch .... Enclosed in the report to Churchill was a prospectus about the machine .... Enigma, the prospectus claimed [,] ... was capable of producing 22 billion different code combinations. "If one man worked continuously day and night and tried a different cipher-key every minute," the prospectus continued, "it would take him 42,000 years to exhaust all combination possibilities."
Given the state of the craft of cryptology in the 1920s, these were bold and exciting claims; but the intelligence section of the American army, one of the most impoverished of all government agencies in those days, took no action to find out more about the machine for three years .... [A]n article about Enigma in a German journal in 1926 aroused the interest of the Signal Corps of the United States army .... Inquiries were made through the military attache at Berlin, and the "Kryha Coding Machine Company" sent a representative to New York to demonstrate the machine to American cryptanalytical experts.
At that time William Frederick Friedman was one of America's leading cryptanalysts .... Born in Russia in 1891, he had come with his family to America a year later, and was graduated from ... Cornell University. A geneticist, he attracted the attention of a rich textile merchant, George Fabyan, who was interested in cryptology and was also trying to prove that Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays. Fabyan gave Friedman a job as a cryptologist, stirring his dormant interest in that field, and during the First World War he was employed by the American military .... By 1921, Friedman was in the employment of the War Department, devising cryptosystems. He wrote a standard work on the craft, Elements of Cryptanalysis, and in 1922 he was appointed Chief Cryptanalyst of the Signal Corps ....
It was Friedman who went to see Kryha's representative in New York. He was evidently impressed with the performance of Enigma, for on January 15, 1927, the Chief Signals Officer of the United States decided to order one each of two models of the machine. However, such was the parsimony of the Treasury that before the order could be placed, the Signal Corps needed to know the exact cost of the machiens and the charges for packing, freight and export duties. Letters flowed between Washington and Berlin for over a year. Prices were quoted and then raised, one of the models of the machine was discontinued, but finally the contract was signed and the machine was shipped in February 1928. Then another snag developed. The Kryha Company had not paid  the freight and import charges, as it had agreed to do, and the Signal Corps had no appropriation for such payments.
The shipment was not released from the warehouse until April 5, 1928, when the charges were finally paid. More than four years had elapsed between the time that Enigma was first offered for sale and Friedman was able to begin the task of penetrating its secrets. His work, however, received another setback in 1929 when Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson withdrew his department's support for the "Black Chamber" -- as the United States cryptanalytic services were called -- on the ground,so it was said, that gentlemen do not open each other's mail. Friedman was appointed Chief of the Signals Intelligence Service in 1930, but his staff, it appeared, consisted of three young cryptanalysts and two clerks. Nevertheless, by 1934 he had succeeded in thoroughly penetrating the Kryha Enigma; and when he learned that the Japanese had purchased an advanced model of the machine, he turned his attention to the Japanese rather than the Germans cryptosystems. So successful were his efforts that, by 1942, the United States was reading the Enigma traffic of both the Japanese navy and Foreign Office; and these intercepts, which were essentially the American counterpart of Ultra, were codenamed "Magic."
....In the early months of 1940 [a] serious security breach was discovered ... at the American Embassy in London. The trail was convoluted, but it eventually led to Tyler Gatewood Kent, who had arrived at the embassy in October 1939 from Moscow, where he had served since 1936 as a State Department code and cipher clerk .... He had access to Ambassador Joseph Kennedy's correspondence with Roosevelt and Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, as well as to the despatches of Ambassador William Bullitt in Paris and of American envoys in other parts of Europe who used the London embassy as a message center. Moreover, Kent handled the Gray Code, a cipher system that the State Department thought to be unbreakable; and it was in this code that Churchill, even before becoming Prime Minister, was corresponding with Roosevelt.
Ultra was just then beginning to flow across Churchill's desk from Bletchley; and without disclosing the source of his information, he passed naval intelligence derived from Ultra to Roosevelt. Roosevelt passed Churchill some Magic intercepts in return, again without disclosing their source. The object was to permit the two leaders and their naval staffs to make sensible dispositions of their fleets in both the Pacific and the Atlantic. But Churchill had another motive; he was frankly trying to enlist American sympathy and support for the British cause ....
It became apparent to British security authorities that there was a leak somewhere when Hans Mackensen, the German ambassador in Rome, made a number of public declarations about Anglo-American naval policy which revealed that he was in possession of part of the information in the Churchill-Roosevelt communications. Suspicion fastened upon an assistant military attache at the Italian Embassy in London, Don Francesco Maringliano, the Duke of Del Monte. He was shadowed by Special Branch officers of Scotland Yard, and they discovered that Maringliano occasionally went to a Russian tea room in London owned by a czarist admiral named Wolkoff. They also discovered that Maringliano had formed an association with the admiral's daughter, Anna Wolkoff, a naturalized British subject who made her living as a dressmaker and was known to be a "virulent anti-Semite" and Fascist sympathizer. Her file at Scotland Yard showed that she was a prominent and active member of the "Right Club," a nest of anti-Jewish right-wingers headed by Captain Archibald Ramsey, a distant relative of the royal family and an MP .... It was also found that Miss Wolkoff was in surreptitious contact with Kent ....
At 10 A.M. on May 20, 1940, four men -- two Special Branch detectives, an MI5 counterespionage officer, and a second secretary from the American Embassy -- raided Kent's apartment .... Kent was taken to the American Embassy and there confessed to Kennedy. He explained that during his Moscow tour he had become dissatisfied with American foreign policy .... [T]hen he met Miss Wolkoff. She persuaded him to show samples of  the documents to Captain Ramsey, and from there, unknown to Kent, they had found their way to Rome and Berlin.
Kent denied that he was a spy. Nevertheless, he was dismissed from the Foreign Service; and with his immunity gone, he was tried, convicted, sentenced to -- and he served -- seven years in the most grim of British prisons, Dartmoor. The consequences of his actions ... were grave. The Gray Code was compromised and all diplomatic communications from American embassies and missions throughout the world were blacked out for weeks until a new system could be established. Furthermore, the documents he had leaked revealed that Roosevelt had abandoned a positive neutral stance, a disclosure that aggravated both the Germans and those in America who were opposed to any involvement in the war ....
Apparently Kent had not compromised Ultra; a check of the Churchill-Roosevelt Gray Code correspondence would show that neither man had referred to Ultra or Magic. But it had been a severe fright, and British security authorities questioned the wisdom of disclosing the secrets of Ultra to anyone, including the Americans. For that reason, the first agreement to share Ultra and Magic was a limited one. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Admiral John Godfrey, the director of naval intelligence of the Admiralty, and his personal assistant, Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming, the future author of the James Bond novels, flew to Washington to arrange a pact to share only British and American naval intelligence. But in February 1942, after assurances were sought and given that neither Britain nor America would employ Ultra-Magic intercepts in circumstances that might cause the enemy to suspect that his secret communications were being read, the pact was extended to include army, air force and diplomatic intelligence. The British would concentrate on penetrating German ciphers, while the Americans concentrated on the Japanese; and to hide the existence of Ultra, it was also agreed that all Ultra signals disseminated for operational purposes should be called Magic. Thus, if the Germans became suspicious through American leakages that their secret cipher system had been penetrated, they would conclude, hopefully, that it was the fault of the Japanese, not their own, and continue to use Enigma. For all practical purposes, Ultra became Magic, and was rarely referred to by its real name, at least in the United States. Furthermore, in Europe, whenever material derived from Ultra was circulated to levels lower than commanding generals, it was often referred to either as "Zeal," or as "Pearl" or "Thumb," two code names that were, in reality, those for low-level cryptographic and wireless intelligence intercepts. So successful would these disguises be that, until the secret of Ultra finally became known, the Germans and the Japanese would believe that the source of their historic discomfiture had been Magic.
Bodyguard of Lies is available from AMAZON
Placed under the British foreign office and officially known as the Secret Intelligence Service from 1921, had the responsibility of gathering foreign intelligence relating to national security. "C", the chief of MI6, was also responsible for the government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park where the German Enigma and Geheimschreiber signals were decrypted and which produced the vital Ultra intelligence.
...The low rating of MI6 at the start of the war was directly due to neglect at the hands of the foreign office and treasury .... This neglect, combined with the intractable problem that MI6 officers faced in trying to penetrate the defences of the totalitarian states of the USSR and Nazi Germany, resulted in a grave deficiency of strategic intelligence immediately before the war and during its early phase. When the purse-strings were at last released in 1938, the head of MI6, Admiral Hugh Sinclair, made a start by building up his counter-espionage section and creating a new section (D) for  sabotage and subversion....
Sinclair's death late in 1939 and his replacement by Stewart Menzies coincided with the abduction of two of his officers at Venlo. Their disclosures greatly contributed to the loss of the European networks, so that Menzies found himself virtually starting from scratch. His position was further weakened when Churchill came to power in May 1940, removed Section D from MI6 and incorporated it into SOE* which came under ministry of economic warfare, not foreign office, supervision....
....[MI6] established a sound working relationship with MI5**, especially in the joint exploitation of controlling Axis agents (see XX-Committee). This exploitation was greatly helped when, in March 1940, the Abwehr's hand cipher was broken, later followed by its machine ciphers and those of the Sicherheitsdienst or SD.....
....[In 1942] clandestine activity in France gained momentum and proved of special value along the Atlantic coast, where U-boats were based and German blockade runners and auxiliary cruisers found shelter. No major landings in Europe could yet be contemplated, but MI6 gave essential help in planning cross-Channel raids, such as those against Dieppe and St. Nazaire .... Useful contacts with the German internal resistance (Schwarze Kapelle) were also maintained in Sweden and Switzerland. But it was difficult to estimate the state of morale in Germany, just as it was the state of the economy ....
Two areas in which agents' reports, supplemented by photographic reconnaissance, enabled heavy losses to be kept to a minimum were in the exposure of German radar defences and in the confirmation that the Germans were developing V-weapons of an unprecedented kind. As RAF Bomber Command intensified its strategic air offensive against Germany, it was of vital importance to locate and neutralize the defensive ring round the German heartland .... As regards V-weapons, agents' reports of activity at Peenemunde had begun to come in as early as November 1939 ... and in August 1943 major air raids at last took place. These critically delayed production ..... On the French and Belgian coasts launching pads and storage sites for the V-1 were discovered; a single agent identified no fewer than 37. These discoveries, and the air attacks which followed them, averted an untold number of casualties in London and south-east England.
In the run-up to the Normandy landings in June 1944 an agent stole the plans of the Atlantic Wall; others contributed sketches of 80 km. (50 mi.) of the coastline where the landings were to take place....
MI6, which had begun the war at a low pitch, ended it on a high note. Maj-General Strong was right when in his book Men of Intelligence (London, 1970) he described the latter years of the Second World War and the early post-war period as a kind of golden age for British Intelligence.
Oxford Companion to World War II, Dear and Foot, eds. (1995)
* The Special Operations Executive was a British secret service intended to promote subversive warfare in enemy-occupied territory. It was formed in July 1940 by joining together a small sabotage branch of MI6, section D; a still smaller research branch of the war office (MI(R); and EH, a semi-secret propaganda department of the foreign office.
**British security service which in the Second World War...shared with MI6 and the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police the responsibility of evaluating...intellgence relating to national security, this being defined as "the defence of national interests against hostile elements other than the armed forces of the enemy: in practice against espionage, sabotage and attempts to procure defeat by political subversion."
Special security classification for information obtained from the Enigma radio enciphering machine, and a designation of the intelligence obtained from it. The Enigma enciphering machine for radio transmissions was modified and adopted for military purposes by Germany in the late 1920s. An electro-mechanically operated computer which generated apparently random number groups, the Enigma machine was copied by Polish cryptanalysts, and two copies each were presented to the British and French just before the outbreak of war in 1939. With daily code changes, and numerous different codes employed by different services, the Germans remained convinced of the security of information passed by Enigma, although British cryptanalysts had constructed a primitive but effective deciphering machine, known as "Colossus," early on in the war, and thus had access to almost all radio transmissions between the German High Command and field headquarters until very near the end of the war.
The Enigma intercepts were of invaluable assistance to Allied leaders and senior field commanders, particularly during the Battle of Britain, in North Africa, during the naval war in the Mediterranean (notably at Cape Mataban), and throughout the critical phase of the Battle of the Atlantic from 1940-3. Ultra also informed the Allies of German reactions to the preparations for D-Day and, in particular, their response to the various deception plans which were so crucial to the success of the Normandy invasion. The Allied failure to predict the German Ardennes offensive (Battle of the Bulge) in 1944 was blamed on UItra, although indications of an offensive were left uninvestigated by sceptical [sic] Allied intelligence staffs. The importance of Ultra, along with other Allied intelligence gathering systems (see Magic), is hard to overstate.
The Macmillan Dictionary of the Second World War, Wheal & Pope, eds. (1989)