The major German spy achievement may have been before the War in encouraging Stalin's purge of the Red Amy. German intelligence during the War was nothing short of a disaster. The Soviets manage to surprise the Germans with a series of offensives beginning with offensive before Moscow. The Soviet offensive before Mosow was in fact the turning point of the War. The German failure to pick up on Soviet preprations was in part because of effective Soviet camafloge techniques. It also was both a failure of German intelligence and the mindset crated by Hitler in the Wehrmacht.
Information on almost all of the German offensives leaked out, although neith ther the Sovirts or the Allies took advantage of this. Of course the German intelligence operation was the fact that the head of the Abwehr, Admiral Canaris, was actively working against the NAZIS. The major surprise German operation of the War was the Ardennes offensive which Allied intelligence failed to pick up on (December 1944). While German intelligence was a general failure, the German were very sucessful in tracking down resistance cells trying to send information back to London or get down flyers back to England.
The groups targeted for mass repression was the kulaks, selected ethnic minorities, family members of those purged, military officers, and so-called saboteurs in agriculture and industry. Orders went out to NKVD offices throughout the country with quotas to be filled. Some NKVD offices sought to impress headquaters by exceeding their quota. The height of the trrror was 1937-38. The institutions of the Soviet state were affected, including the Red Army. Not only was this the only institution that could threaten Stalin. Many historians believed, as the Germans did, that German agents convinced Stalin that army officers were plotting againt him. The major German World WarII spy achievement may have been before the War in encouraging Stalin's purge of the Red Army. Since Sioviet archives were opened following the disolution of the Soviet Union (1991), most historians are now convinced that the purge was entirely Stalin's doing and the German involvement incedental. As a result of the Rapollo Treaty (1922), large numbers of Red Army officers had associations wih German officers and thus open to charges of treason. The result was a severe loss of some of the best trained and most professionl Red Army military officers. Those that survived were the politically most loyal, but loyalty and competence are two differebt matters. Many believe this, in part, explains the poor perormance of the Red Army when the Germans launched Barbarossa (1941).
The Abwehr was the Prussian Army's intelligence arm. It was created as war with Austria loomed (1866). Success in the Austro-Prussian War and the subsequent Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) resulted in expanding the organization. Wilhelm Stieber oversaw the Abwehr which collected vluable information on French defenses wand was seen as playing an important role in the Prussian/German victory. One outcome of the War was the unification of Germany around the Prussian state. Thus many Prussian insitutions became part of Imperial Germany. The Abwehr became the military intelligence organization of the new Imperial German military. The Abwehr collected valuable infirmation that proved useful when the Germany Army invaded Belgium. Walther Nicolai oversaw the modernization of the Abwehr to accomodate new technologies. The Abwehr ran inteligence and sabatoge operations in foreign countries, including the United States during the War. the Abwehr was forced to cease operation after World War I as part of terms of the Versailles Treaty (1919). The German military reactivated an ntelligence service (1921). The military inteligence operations included surveilance of political parties. And this included the NAZIs even after they became the governing party (1933). The NAZIs set up their own indeoendent intelligence service--Sicherheitsdienst (SD--Security Service). It was headed by SS officer Reinhard Heydrich. (A cashiered former naval officer.) Wilhelm Canaris was appointed to head the Abwehr, German military inteligence (1935). Thus he was the main German spy master during almost all of World war II. After being appointed to head the Abwehr, he negotiated with SD Director Heydrich over an agreed division of responsibilities. Both as World War II approsched trained and maintained their own intelligence forces. Canaris set about reorganizing the Abwehr into three separate branches: 1) espionage, 2) counter-espionage, and 3) sabotage. He appointed three respected Abwehr agents to head the three different branches. He insisted that they could not be NAZI Party members.
Each of the three principal German military services (Whermacht, Luftwaffe, and Kriegsmarine) maintained their own intelligence staff to evaluate inteligence data and disseminate it to approproate commands. One staff officer in the Wehrmacht intelligence staff, Reinhard Gehlen. rose to considerable prominance. The data used by the service intelligemce units was obtained through both open soureces, photo reconisance, covert operations, and other sources. The service intelligence staffs did not, however, conduct secret intelligence activities. Here they worked with the Abwehr to provide the information they needed. Lisason staff briefed the Abwehr on what they needed. The Abwehr attempted to provide the information the services requested.
The Sicherheitsdienst (SD) under Reinhard Heydrich became a rival inteligence agency to the Abwehr during the War. Organizationally, the SD was a branch of the Himmler's SS. The SD was founded as the security and intelligence service of the NAZI Party. The SD gradually grew in importance, especially in the hands of Reinhard Heydrich. Unlike the Abwehr, the operations of the SD were not limited to military intelligence. The SD came to be the ultimat intelligence organ of NAZI state and eventually at the end of the War, gained control over the Abwehr. With the outbreak of World War II, the Abwehr took on its final shape. The various German police agencies of the State (including the Gestapo) were combined to form the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Central Security Service of the Reich--RSHA.). Much of the RHSA had non-military functions. One section (Amt VI) was the SD. This unit began working in foreign intelligence, completely independent of the Abwwehr. There were a variety of non-military functions. It was the SD. for example, that would complile lists of anti-NAZIs to be arrested after the Wehrmacht occupied a country. This was done before the actual invasion. Individuals could be identified both through newspapers and NAZI sympthizers in the various countries. The SD began recruiting and placing agents abroad. The initial goal was political intelligence, but as the War continued and the SS grew in importance, the SD began to acquire economic and military intelligence. The SD by the end of the War had espionage networks in several countries. Two of the largest were Argentina and Spain.
Of course the German intelligence operation was the fact that the head of the Abwehr, Admiral Canaris, was actively working against the NAZIS. Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was a World War I U-boat commander and war hero. He was appointed to head the Abwehr, German military inteligence (1935). He is one of the most mysterious figures of World War II. While a committed German patriot, he was horrified at SS attrocities in Poland that he personally witnessed. Other attrocities campe to his attention such as plans to kill importantPolishish officials and nobels as well as highly educated and cutures Poles to destroy the Polish inteligencia--the repository of national culture (Aktion AB). From that point he began to work to prevent a NAZI victory in the war. A great deal is known about his activities, but the full extent of his activities may never be known. He was extrodinarily effective, The NAZIs had no idea of his activities until the last months of the War. He was close to many top NAZIs like Goebbels who trusted him without reservation. Only after the Wehrmacht Bomb Plot (July 1944). Hitler had him hanged at Flossenburg Concentration Camp (April 9, 1945). Hitler had movies takrn so he could watch. The Americans liberated the Camp (April 23). German military intelligence during World War II was highly ineffective. It is unclear just what Role Admiral Canaris played in this.
The Germans organized spy rings before the War. Then after launching the War, organozed intelligence operations in occupied countries. Most of them were organized by the Abwehr, but the Sicherheitsdienst (SD)was also active. There were ethnic Germans in several countries successfully targetted by the Germans (Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Yugoslavia). Nor do we have much inormation on spy rings in countries without ethnic German populations. The Germans organized a massive intelligence operation in France as part of the occupation to ensure that the French were abiding by the terms of the armistice and to best exploitingthe French economy to support the German war effort. We have some information on German intelligence operations in Britain. The British very effectively rounded up the German spies and turned them ahainst the NAZIS--the Double-Cross System. As far as we know, the GErmans were unable to penetrate the Soviet Union, We are unsure they even tried.
Few achieved any success and the Double-Cross system meant that in the end they severely damaged the German war effort. The most successful German opeations were in in South America.
America like many other countries attempted to remain neutral as Europe headed toward war and for over 2 years after the War began. Hitler made a variety of different statements about the United states, but from the beginning sensed the United States with its massive industrial power was a danger. He thus persued a range of policies aimed at keeping American neutral such as distanting the NAZI Government from Fritz Kune and the German American Bund and later ordering U-boat commanders to avoid incidents with American ships. German military planners were more than aware of the role the United States played in World war I and thus assumed that eventually America would comed into the War to support the British. Thus even before the War, the Abwehr organized a network in America. In World War I the focus as on sabatoge, because the United States did not have importanrt war industry with secrets to steal or before 1917 a substantial army. This was different in World War Ii when the focus became military intelligence. The NAZI effort proved much less sxuccessful than the Soviet espionage effort. Hollywood tends to depict these German spies as rabid NAZIs, as the Abwehr conducted the operations they tended to be German nationalists rather than NAZI activists.
The Germans before the War set up several spy rings in Britain. Both the Abwehr and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) were active. After the War began, MI-5 rapidy apprehended the German agents. Some turned themselves in to authorities. After the War began, the British very effectively ferreted out the ones that remained at large. The spies were given the choice of turning or bring tried and shot. This was MI-5's Double Cross system. The Germans were not aware of their failure because the turned agents kept reporting to Germany as if nothing had happened. The Germans kept tying to insert new agents after the War began. Some were apprehended near the beaches where they had landed by boat or U-boat. Many were arrested when they tried to contact agents the British had already arrested or turned. The Germans used various methods: parachutes, submarines, and travel through neutral countries. The neutral country route was the most important. It was facilitated by the fact that there so many refugees from the many different countries the Germans or Soviets had invaded seeking santuary in Britain at the time. One German spy was the Elyesa Bazna, the valet of the British ambassador to Turkey, Hughe Knatchbull-Huggessen. He worked under the codename Cicero. He was a British NAZI. He simply saw an opportunity to make money. He had no training in espionage. He sold the Germans the minutes from the 1943 Casablanca conference, in which the Allied demand for unconditional German surrender was first demanded. Anbassador Van Papen made use of the information in dealing with the Turkish Government. Both Ribbentrop and OKW, however, concluded that the documents were to good to be true and never accepted them as genuine. The Abwehr paid Bazna off in mostly forged money. The SS forced Jewish prisoners at the NAZI Sansanhausen concentration camp to forge the notes--Opperastion Bernhard. They were virtually undectable from real notes. The British finally determined who Cicero was (1944). There was nothing that could be done, Spying on the British was not a crime in Turkey. Bazna did get his comeupance when it was found that almost all the £300,000 he received was forged notes.
The Germans organized a massive intelligence operation in France as part of the occupation to ensure that the French were abiding by the terms of the armistice and to best exploitingthe French economy to support the German war effort. They cooperated with Vichy intelligence operations.
The German Wehrmacht invaded Yugoslavia (April 1941). Yugoslavia was soon over run in a few daus. The Germans set up a puppet government under Milan Nedic. Ugoslavs were shocked by the quick German vicyory. It seemed impossible to resit. And the Comminists were confused as the Soviet Union ar the time was a NAZI ally. Yugoslavs soon recovered ftom the shock and a substntial resistane movement was operating (by 1942). The building resistance soon movement communicated by radio. There was a German intelligence unit deoloyed whose whose purpose was to search for illegal radio transmissions. The Searching Communications unit uncovered a network of illegal radio stations throughout Sebia and in the city of Belgrade. The matter was so serious to the Germans that they called up experienced intelligence agents from Thessalonica in Greece to capture these radio locations. So began the Balkan war in the ether.
The Nazi Special Intelligence unit set up their headquarters in the district of Belgrade called Dedinje. This area was then on the outskirts of Belgrade and was a fashionable area for wealthy families to live. This was the part of the city where many German soldiers were stationed. The district soon became used to the high ranking German officers who occupied the mansions left vacant after the pre-War owners had fled or had been arrested. When a new group of German officials arrived no-one paid much attention to them. A large number of trucks started to arrive at a secluded house. To be curious about what was happening could get one arrested and imprisoned. The next door neighbours moved away from their window when a German Sergeant shouted at them to stop watching them.
The Abwehr set up several espionage networks in South America. These were primarily centered in Argerntina, Brazil, and Chile where there were substantial German minority communities and small operations in several smasller countries. The largest German populatiion was in Brazil. Groups in Brazil were headed headed by Albrecht Gustav Engels and Nils Christian Christensen. The groups working through a variety of organizations where Germans either staffed or worked were able to obtain a great deal of valuable information. By far the most important informartion was British shipping scheduldles. This was secretly transmitted by radio to Germany. Information from the more distant River Plate region (Argentina and Uruguay) was collected in the same manner, but relazyed to the Brazilian stanions for transmission to the Reich. The Brazilian groups also relayed information obtained in the United States. Radio transmission was the most dangerous step as it could be detected and traced, but the Brazilians were less technically proficient than the United States. And they were closwer to Europe than the Pacific coast countries. Thus agents like Nicolaus in Mexico, Walter Giese in Ecuador, and the PYL group in Chile had their reports relasyed through Brazil.
After the War began, these groups transmitted considerable useful informationn, especially the shipping information (1940-41). Fortunately the U-boat fleet was still relatively small. Nicolaus, Engels, and Christensen were all deployed by Abwehr Group I (Wi) (economic espionage), but as the war progressed and the U-boat campaign became increasingly important and the German spy rings were ordered to concentrate on naval and maritime intelligence. The German rings were very successful during this period, because the Brazilian authorities did not interfere with their operations. American and Brazilian authorities acquired considerable information on the South american networks, in part because of the transmissions. After Pearl Harbor this rapidly changed. United States authorities actively collected information and worked with the local authirities. The Argenyines were not very cooperative, but the Brazilians were. Brazil broke relations with Germany (Januaru 1942) and declared war (August 1942). The country became an active participant in the campaign agaiunst the German U-bosts. Brazilian authorities arrested the German agents (March 1942). This severely restricted the effectiveness of the German spy rings even in the South American countries that did not move against the Germans.
Authorities in in other countries moved against the German agents at the same time. Argentine and Chilen authorities refused to move against the Germans. These countries also had sizeable resident German colonies with strong local connections. And in Argentina, Col. Peron admired the Fascists, actially Missolini more than Hitler. The Chileans has strong ties to the German military. Both countries continued relations with German until it was clear that the NAZIs had won the war.
The Soviet Union had the most sucessful espionage operation in NAZI Germany. Not only were they very good at espionage, but the powerful Communist and socialist parties meant that there were aot of Germans who both looked on the Soviets favorably but were pre-disposed to oppose the NAZIs. This made recruitment a much easier propisition than might hae been expected. The Red Orchestra is the best known ring. Soviet activities were especially successfull when there was a Soviet Embassy in Berlin. Once Hitler launched Barbarossa and the Soviet Embassy was closed down, the Soviets lost contact with most of their German sources. Attempts to implant new ooertives failed. The Allies had much less success. The British had a long history of espionage. America did not even have an intelligence agency before the War and had no experience in inserting or running spy rings. Most of the non-electronic intelligence that the Allies received came from anti-NAZIs who collected informarion and sent it to the Allies on their own initiative. Here Sweden and Switerland provided ways of getting intelligence to the Allies. This was the case for reports on NAZI secret weapons such as the V-weapns. Britain's MI-6 ran an Agent Knopf in OKW. Peter and Helen Riedel provided information on the Luftwaffe. Paul Rosbaud provided vital information on secret weapons. Fritz Kolbe delivered valuable secret documents to Allan Dulles in Switerland. Near the end of the war, the U.S. OSS staged Operation Greenup inserting refugee Jews back into the Reich to learn about the feared NAZI Alpine redoubt. The Roman Catholic Church was also involved in operations which might be described more as resistance than espionage.
The British SIS began the War with a massive failure--the Velmo incident. Velmo wa a Dutch town where the SIS much of the operation took place. The Netherlands was a neutral country. Abwehr agents posed as disident officers planning to depose Hitler. SIS agents met several times with the Awehr agents posing as conspirators. A German operation to abduct the SIS team had to be cancelled when Dutch police shoed up in Velno. Later when the Dutch police were not present, the Germans succeeded in abducting two SIS agents.
The best intelligence information on Germany came from Germans who were horrified at the NAZI regime and what it was during in Germany's name. One of the most valuable source of information was the so-called Oslo report which provided British MI-6b extremely valuable information on German scientific wapons research.
Reinhard Gehlen rose to the rank of Generalmajor in the Wehrmacht. He was extensively involved in Operation Barbarossa and because of his talents and expertise was promoted to be the senior intelligence officer with the German General Staff on the Russian front. He tus headed the German intelligence gathering on the Eastern Front. Given the monumental intelligence failures leading to Soviet victories, it is difficult to understand how Gehlen maintained his position. Gehlen was promoted to the rank of Major General and was ordered to collect unformation on the Soviet Union and its battlefield tactics as Head of "Foreign Forces—East" (Fremde Heere Ost) (DEcember 1944). By this time the War was lost for Germany and its militart forces rapidly being destroyed. The information heccollected, however, was to make him very valuable to the Allies. With the Allies crossing the Rhine and the Soviets moving toward Berlin, Gehlen and his cloest associates realized the War was lost. They microfilmed the the data collected bu the Fremde Heere Ost and packed them in watertight drums. They then buried the drums in several locations in the Austrian Alps (March 1945). The United States Army after the War recruited Gehlen to set up a spy ring against the Soviet Union. He organized the Gehlen Organisation Gehlen to resist Communism in Eastern Europe. He ran the West German Federal Intelligence Bureau (intelligence apparatus) until 1968. He is seen as one of the legendary Cold War spymasters.
One of the Abwehr's most successful inteligence operations was Operation Nordpol. This was the Germzan effort ahainst the Dutch Resistance network. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) attempted to suport the Dutch Resistance. Abwehr agents forced a captured SOE radio operator to transmit messages in a code that the Germans had obtained. The operator attempted to covertly indicate that he had been compromised by the Germans. The SOE operator in Britain failed to pick up the cvlues. The Germans as a result were able to penetrate the Dutch Resistance. For about 2 years they vwere able to arrest Dutch Resistance operatives and SOE agents the British tried ton insert. They also sent false intelligence and sabotage reports before the SOE finally understood what had happened.
Operation Bernhard was the SS counterfeit money operation. The SS forced Jewish prio\oners at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp to counterfeit foreign bank notes. The notes made were so good that the Bank of England had to change the design of the pound notes do as to be able to prevent the fakes from being used. Some of the money wsas used to finance inteligence operations.
The Soviets manage to surprise the Germans with a series of offensives beginning with the Red Army offensive before Moscow (December 1941). The Soviet offensive before Mosow was in fact the turning point of the War. The German failure to pick up on Soviet preprations was in part because of effective Soviet camafloge techniques. It also was both a failure of German intelligence and the mindset crated by Hitler in the Wehrmacht.
Information on almost all of the German offensives leaked out, although neither they the Soviets or the Allies took advantage of this. One that the Siviets did take advantage if was Kursk (1943). The major surprise German operation of the War was the Ardennes offensive which Allied intelligence failed to pick up on (December 1944).
While German intelligence was a general failure, the German were very sucessful in operarions against the escalating resistance. There was in many countries a general acceptance of the German occupiers. This began to change as the war shifted against the Germans and the nature of the NAZIs becme increasingly apparent. For many the turning point was the German conscription of civilians for war work in the Reich. Churchill early in the War greatly expanded the SIS's SOE. The initial plan was to set occupied Europe ablaze. This did not prove possible because of the urbanized environment and the fierce German reaction. The emphasis gradually shifted to intelligence gathering. The Germans were very effective in locating and arresting resistance cells. Even so the resistance managed to send a great deal of valuable information back to London. Another major effort was to prevent downed Allied flyers getting back to England.
Hitler correctly judged that after his appointment as Chancellor, that the Reichwehr was the only force in Germany that could prevent him from seizing absolute power. The Whermacht was also in 1944 the only force capable of taking control of Germany from the NAZIs. Some Wehrmacht officers were apauled with what was being done in the East in the name of the German people. The SS abd other security forces were preptrating terrible attrocities, but Wehrmacht officers were also involved. Others Whrmact officers were bothered about the Wehrmacht's conduct. Only the impending defeat of Germany, however, brought about an attempt to remove Hitler and the NAZIs (July 1944). An idealistic young Catholic aristocrat, Colonel Claus von Staufenberg, placed a bomb in the Wolf's Lair. After Hitler was dead, the Hpme Army would seize control of Berlin and then Germany. The idea was to then negotiate a separate peace with the Western Allies. That by 1944 was unrealistic. In the end, the failure to kill Hitler and the extensive NAZi penetration of the Wehrmact led to the coup's failure. The bulk of the Wehrmacht remained loyal to Hitler and the NAZIs. The real loser was the German people. Most of the German civilian casualties took place after the failed coup. To form the Honor Court trying the conspirators, Hitler appointed Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt--a Prussian aristocrat who despised Hitler personally.
Hitler and the NAZIs strove to create a police state from as soon as Hitler was appointed chancellor. There were at first condtitutional difficulties, especially the fact that police power was difused among the various German states. Hitler's approached was to begin by seize control of the police in two major states, Prussia and Bavaria. Göring was placed in charge of the Prussian police and Himmler the Bavarian police. From that beginning the NAZIs steadily expanded their control of the German police, kncreasing bits aithority, reducing judicial authotity, and centralizing the fotce. The final step in the process of centralizing the police undervNAZI command was the creation of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA -- Reich Security Office). Himmler issued the decree creating the RSHA a few weeks after the beginning of World War II (September 27, 1939). This effectively centralized all agencies of state security within the SS, bluring the lines between a NAZI Party agency and a central government police agency. The RSHA thus became a SS unit responsible for combating the enemies of National Socialism. Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's most poweful subordinate and with direct access to the Führer, was appointed to head the RSHA. Under Himmler's deft hand, the RHSA was created (1939). It combined the NAZI security aparatus under one command. It included the Sicherheitsdienst (SD -- Security Police), Kriminalpolizei (state criminal police--Kripo), and the Geheime Staatspolizei (state secret police--Gestapo). Many authors refer to the Gestapo as the NAZI secret police. In fact the Gestap was only one part of the NAZI security aparatus. The correct term is the RSHA. A unit of the RSHA was Amt VI headed by SS Colonel Adolph Eichmann who oversaw the mechanics of the Holocaust. The planning for the Generalplan Ost (GPO) was another RSHA undertaking. Under Heydrich's leadership, the RSHA began competing with the Abwehr in both intelligence and counter inteligence. After the July Bomb Plot and the eventual arrest of Admiral Canaris, the RSHA acquired full responsibility for intelligence abnd counter-intelligenc in the rapidly desiuntegrating Reich.
SS General Walter Schellenberg was brought into the SD by Reinhard Heydrich working in counter-intelligence operations. He became an aide to Himmler and a deputy director of the Main Reich Security Office (RSHA). He was involved in some of the more notable German intelligence operations such as the Venlo Incident. One of his assignments was to draw up an occuption handbook for German police and administrative officials once Opertion Sea Lion had been executed. His handbook is historically interesting. It included the chilling Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.--Special Search List for Great Britin (black book). This is what the French avoided by surrendering to the Germans and collaborating. It was a list of 2,300 prominent Britons opposed to the NAZIs to be arrested after the planned German invasion. He was appointed to head the SD after British agents shot Heydrich in Czechoslovakia. the head of the SD and acquired control over some of the Abwehr when it was transferred to the RSHA, essentially removed from OKW and incorporated within the SS (Spring 1944). After the July most of the rest of the Abwehr which had been made RSHA unit MilArt (July 1944). after the arrest of Admiral Canaris during the final months of the War, Schellenberg was thus Hitler's intelligence chief. [Doerries] He accompanied Heinrich Himmler while at the same time attempted to save his own life. He convinced Himmler to try to negotiate with the Allies. Schellenberg was part of the NAZI leadership, although despite being a ranking SS oficer, never was directly implicated in killing operations. He negotiated the freeing of 20,000 concentration camp inmates and transfer to Swedish custody through Count Bernadotte (1945). He was finally arrested by the British in Denmark (June 1945). At the Nuremberg Trials Schellenberg was a witness against the NAZIs. At the Ministries Trial he was given a 6-year sentence (1949). He wrote his memoirs (The Labyrinth) while incarcerated. He died in Italy (1952).
Doerries, Reinhard R. Hitler's Intelligence Chief: Walter Schellenberg (2008).
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