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View Full Version : Why German intelligence agencies weren't good in the UK?



alephh
10-08-2005, 11:02 AM
This caught my attention from another thread:


German intelligence agencies weren't really much good in the UK in WW2

I would like to hear opinions about this, to explore why this was the case.

Considering amount of resources germans put to intellingence, and good quality of some of their intelligence sections (ie radio surveillance) and the point that several intelligence head were not stupid - this seems... I don't know... almost out-of-place.

For example Soviet culture was completely different from german, and yet Gehlen could use a lot of agents in the east.

Wonder if British over-reaction to arrest basically all german related persons in England contributed much to this?

BDL
10-08-2005, 12:15 PM
Not certain on why, but I read that every agent ever landed in Britain by Germany was either turned and used as a double agent or arrested almost as they landed.

PzKpfw VI Tiger
10-08-2005, 12:18 PM
Not certain on why, but I read that every agent ever landed in Britain by Germany was either turned and used as a double agent or arrested almost as they landed.

I seriously doubt that. :roll:

Crab_to_be
10-08-2005, 12:42 PM
I'd normally agree that such claims are outrageous exaggerations. However, from the wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MI5):
The system was extraordinarily successful. A postwar analysis of German intelligence records found that of the 115 or so agents targeted against Britain during the war, all but one (who committed suicide) had been successfully identified and caught, with several "turned" to become double agents. The system played a major part in the massive campaign of deception which preceded the D-Day landings, designed to give the Germans a false impression of the location and timings of the landings Operation Mincemeat.

My bold.

BDL
10-08-2005, 12:45 PM
Not certain on why, but I read that every agent ever landed in Britain by Germany was either turned and used as a double agent or arrested almost as they landed.

I seriously doubt that. :roll:

I did first time I read it but as Crab posted, it's true. German intelligence was absolutely appalling against Britain and Abwehr agents mostly useless.

Firefly
10-08-2005, 01:05 PM
The trouble for the Germans was that their first load of agents was arrested and turned very quickly. After that the Germans would think they are sending new agents and tell their agents in place to expect No9 etc, as these were now working for the Brits, easy enough to meet them on landing eh?

Of course the Brit intelligence often gave these agents real int to transmit to Abwher etc and so the Germans suspected nothing.

1000ydstare
10-09-2005, 02:40 AM
As an added bonus the Russians were extremely suspicious of each other, so the activities of the German int and propaganda machines were able to lead the russian bear by his nose for a long time, hence the purges of the Red Army officer corps, and the fact that Op Barbraossa met minimal resistance in the first stages.

The British turned misinformation in to an art form during WW2. The use of the Phantom Signal Regiment to transmit "intellingence" and fake exercise traffic in the South East of England, coupled with lots of blow up tanks and even civvies tooling around in uniform, meant the Germans believed the attack to come Dover-Calais, not Normandy.

And of course "the Man who never was" operation.

Man of Stoat
10-09-2005, 04:08 AM
Another major difference between the UK and the USSR was that people in the UK were not living under an oppressive dictatorship. Thus the incentive to work for the Germans in the UK was significantly lower than the incentive to work for the Germans in the USSR. Remember that many people in the western Soviet Union initially greeted the Germans as liberators.

Bladensburg
10-09-2005, 05:57 AM
IIRC the Admiral (name escapes me) that headed German intelligence was unsympathetic towards the Nazis and was what could probably be described as a bit of a non-trier.



Of course the old joke has it that German spies were always caught because Germans are incapable of pronouncing the word "squirrel"... :lol:

pdf27
10-09-2005, 06:20 AM
IIRC the Admiral (name escapes me) that headed German intelligence was unsympathetic towards the Nazis and was what could probably be described as a bit of a non-trier.
Admiral Canaris. IIRC he was shot towards the end of the war as a traitor


Of course the old joke has it that German spies were always caught because Germans are incapable of pronouncing the word "squirrel"... :lol:
Well, IIRC one (a blackmailed Dutchman) was caught after he tried to get a pub to sell him cider at 10am...

BDL
10-09-2005, 06:43 AM
Well, IIRC one (a blackmailed Dutchman) was caught after he tried to get a pub to sell him cider at 10am...

I've heard that story before to, not sure how true it is - unbelievable that an agent working in a foreign country would be so badly briefed about local law and customs though.

pdf27
10-09-2005, 07:42 AM
Well, IIRC one (a blackmailed Dutchman) was caught after he tried to get a pub to sell him cider at 10am...
I've heard that story before to, not sure how true it is - unbelievable that an agent working in a foreign country would be so badly briefed about local law and customs though.
I would quote you the title of the book it came out of, but it's at my parents' house :(

BDL
10-09-2005, 07:50 AM
Well, IIRC one (a blackmailed Dutchman) was caught after he tried to get a pub to sell him cider at 10am...
I've heard that story before to, not sure how true it is - unbelievable that an agent working in a foreign country would be so badly briefed about local law and customs though.
I would quote you the title of the book it came out of, but it's at my parents' house :(

I'm desperately trying to remember where I read it to.

By the way - unbelievable as in I can't believe they were so slack, rather than unbelievable as in I can't believe that happened.

(If that makes sense - not saying I don't believe it happened, I just can't believe that the normally so professional Germans were so badly amateur in their attempts against us).

1000ydstare
10-09-2005, 08:14 AM
They attempted to get local knowledge out of captured Brits. How accurate the "intelligence" gleaned from these blokes probably varied greatly.

On our side, they even manufactured clothing in the same style as the country they were going to from clothes taken from refugees (exchanged for new clothes obviously) and even the make of the zips were filed off!!! And most of the agents were from the country they were going to anyway.

The training regime was copied by the Russians after the war to train spys for coming to the West in deep cover, forget the towns name but it was built like a American, British and other towns in different compounds. No native tongue was allowed or else!!!

Was it Zogrob or similar?

As a final exercise, in Britain, they were allowed out on the razz!! If they uttered a single word about what they had/were or about to do they were kicked off and not sent. Attractive ladies were used to see if they would talk.

alephh
10-09-2005, 09:51 AM
first load of agents was arrested and turned very quickly.

It's a very good point that the whole operation got a bad start, and because british counter measures were good, it was very hard to turn the tide later on.


115 or so agents targeted against Britain during the war, all but one (who committed suicide) had been successfully identified and caught, with several "turned" to become double agents.

That is amazing record. So amazing, that makes one think do they research all archives (considering mishmash of german intelligence departments and amount of records destroyed).


Admiral Canaris.

He's a very complicated character.

German accounts give pretty bad description about their own organization. I read Erich Gimpel's (who was sent to US) book some time ago, and it almost looked like that there wasn't unified routies to form foundation of intelligence operations.

pdf27
10-09-2005, 10:40 AM
(If that makes sense - not saying I don't believe it happened, I just can't believe that the normally so professional Germans were so badly amateur in their attempts against us).
I'm far from convinced the Germans really were all that professional. In the areas I know best what I'm talking about (jet aircraft and nuclear physics) the Germans were so clueless they couldn't find their backside with both hands and a map. It has been said before that the battle of Britain was a fight between a bunch of colourful amateur adventurers and the most ruthlessly professional airforce on the planet - and it was a good thing for the UK that we were the ruthless professionals for a change. I think that's far more true than popular myth would have it.

BDL
10-09-2005, 11:10 AM
I'm far from convinced the Germans really were all that professional. In the areas I know best what I'm talking about (jet aircraft and nuclear physics) the Germans were so clueless they couldn't find their backside with both hands and a map. It has been said before that the battle of Britain was a fight between a bunch of colourful amateur adventurers and the most ruthlessly professional airforce on the planet - and it was a good thing for the UK that we were the ruthless professionals for a change. I think that's far more true than popular myth would have it.

I've read that exact quote about the BofB before, and it does make a change for the Brits to be the ruthless pros :lol:

Maybe the whole idea of Tuetonic efficency is wrong then. Maybe their whole problem was being led by a party of amateurs who ignored the professionals unless they agreed with them?

Crab_to_be
10-09-2005, 01:15 PM
From my limited experience, it makes a change for the RAF to be ruthless professionals. In my (limited) experience, they tend to look like the adult branch of the Air Training Corps.

pdf27
10-09-2005, 01:58 PM
Maybe the whole idea of Tuetonic efficency is wrong then. Maybe their whole problem was being led by a party of amateurs who ignored the professionals unless they agreed with them?
Strategically (in both military and industrial terms) that's true. However, I think there's something else at work too - that they started believing their own propaganda, and that as a result lots of other people have too. I'm not talking about the "zionist conspiracy" claptrap but more about the "wonder weapons" stuff. Much of the late war stuff - particularly aircraft - looked very futuristic and on paper at least promised huge performance. The problem is that the reality was a long way off and when many of these designs were tried postwar they turned out to be universally rubbish.
Examples of this would be for instance the Ta-183 being built as the Pulqui in Argentina - which turned out to be a dog of an aircraft which killed the pilot unlucky enough to be given the job of testing it. Another would be the new jet engines to power the next generation "advanced jet fighters". Not only were the paper designs substantially less powerful than required by the designs they were to power, when the Russians captured the plans and (with far better metallurgy and massively more experience of gas turbines) tried to make them work after the war they simply couldn't. MTBF remained stubbornly in the tens of hours, and performance/handling were pretty poor. By contrast the US/UK were making jets at the same time with MTBFs in the thousands of hours and with relatively benign handling. And jet people still believe in the myth of the fantastic German jet fighters which might have turned the tide in the air if only given the funding sooner. When you look at them with some aeronautical knowledge you suddenly realise just how bad they are.
While I have no evidence that this situation extends out of the aero engineering world to the rest of the economy, I strongly suspect it does. Situations like this rarely develop independently, but rather as part of a national climate of self-deception.

The way other people have believed their propaganda is rather more insidious and worrying. If you look on other boards (Warships1 is a good example) you will often find people asking for a moment of silence to remember this or that German ship being sunk. You'll never see this for Allied ships - yet the Germans were fighting in what is almost universally accepted to have been a foul cause, while the Allies were fighting in a highly morally justifiable one. It's a worrying trend and one I try to speak out against whenever I see it on the internet.

pdf27
10-09-2005, 02:02 PM
From my limited experience, it makes a change for the RAF to be ruthless professionals. In my (limited) experience, they tend to look like the adult branch of the Air Training Corps.
At squadron level, this may have been true (certainly the Germans were light years ahead tactically). When it came to the high command however things were very different - the RAF never lost sight of it's strategic aim and was ruthless in pursuing it, while the Luftwaffe high command never really knew what it was trying to do and kept running around trying different strategies for periods of time too short to know if they had any effect.
Even Galland, when he finally became General of the Fighter Arm made mistakes like this. A good example is his plans for the "big blow" - which with the fighters and pilots at his disposal would have helped the USAAF more than the Luftwaffe.

Hosenfield
10-09-2005, 03:01 PM
the luftwaffe was run by a morphine addicted art-stealing fashion-designing idiot named Hermann Goering.

alephh
10-09-2005, 03:37 PM
the luftwaffe was run by a morphine addicted art-stealing fashion-designing idiot named Hermann Goering.

:-D

If I interpret that right - you might be hinting that he was not flawless role model - saint of the era - salvager of the airforce ;-)

You don't happen to have any more characterizations? (Or maybe there should be a thread for this?)

alephh
10-10-2005, 12:32 AM
"wonder weapons" stuff. Much of the late war stuff - particularly aircraft - looked very futuristic and on paper at least promised huge performance. The problem is that the reality was a long way off and when many of these designs were tried postwar they turned out to be universally rubbish.

But it was wartime, and germans were under a lot of stress. You don't think for example US plans and financing to train bats to drop bombs or pigeon-guided missiles were "wonder weapon" - styled projects ;-D and US weren't about to lose the war and in need of desperate miracles.

All sides had a lot of pointless projects. If the result of the war had been reversed, we'd be laughing US and UK projects now and poking around their archives.

Allied had time to develope and test everything from bats to aircrafts, and if one of those projects was success - I wouldn't call that completely success either.

Germans had to use poorer and poorer raw materials which resulted poor components, which made even the good projects pretty difficult to test and estimate true value of new ideas and plans.


While I have no evidence that this situation extends out of the aero engineering world to the rest of the economy, I strongly suspect it does. Situations like this rarely develop independently, but rather as part of a national climate of self-deception.

And from bat bombers we can end up concluding that US national climate was...? ;-D