Electronic inteligence was not the only method of intelligence gathering. The Soviets operated the most sucessful spy networks, in both Allied and Axis countries. The existence of Communist Party organizations proved a great asset. The Red Army although not highly respected by the Wehrmcht, proved very adept as desguising their major offensives.
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. Information on almost all of the German offensives leaked out, although neith ther the Soviets 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 greatest Allied achievement may have been in misleading the the Germans about the location of the D-Day landings. Allied opperatives also provided valuavle information about the German rocket program. The major surprise German operation of the War was the Ardennes offensicve which Allied intelligence failed to pick up on (December 1944). The Japanese collected information on Pearl Harbor before the War, but have few intellgence successes during the War. They did obtain information on Singapore defenses. And the Ivhi-Go offensive in China was based on information they acquired about the planned strategic bombing campaign. The results, however, were negated when the Americans seized the Mariana Islands in the Central Pcific.
The United States did not have a spy agency before World War II broke out While the Army and Navy had code breaking units. In fact, Secretary Stimpson was noted for an early remark he made at President Hoover's Secretary of State, "Gentlemen do not read other's mail." The story of how America developed a secret operations service is nothing short of shocking, Amazingly it began with the British who set up a covert operation to sway public opinion and disrupt Axis operatiins in the the United States. When the British asked for assistance from the Federal Bureau of Unvestigation, Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover told them that the President would need to approve this. President Roosevelt did not hesitate. This was the beginnng of Anglo-American intelligence cooperation. One action was to advise the British Government that President Prrocevelt was sending over a personal mission in the person of William Donnovan, a long time acquauntence, although a committed Republican. The British gave him Red Carpet treatmentment and showed him things even Ambassador Kennedy and few Brits did not know about. He was shown Hitler's invasion orders (Füher Directive 16). Donovan knew instantly that the British had broken German codes, although he was not told of Ultra at the time. Donovan returned a firm proponent of aiding Britain and with an interest in secret operations. The British began training Americans in secret operations in Canada. Rossevelt asked Donovan to head the "office of information". This became the beginning of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). American inteligence operations were developed by Donovan and the OSS. American operatives in Vichy North Africa collected a great deal of useful information in preparation for the Torch landings. American operatives also made contact with Admiral Canaris in both Turkey and Spain. Security operations in the United States and the Western Hempshere were conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). The OSS after the War was by order of President Truman converted into the CIA.
The British secret service during World War II was the Secret Service Bureau founded in 1909. The Bureau was a joint effort of the Admiralty and the War Office to coordinate the gathering and interpretation of intelligence.
Britain at the time had not fought a major since the Crimean War (1854-56). Tension were, however. rising in Europe because of increasingly aggresive behavior of Imperial Germany and most ominously for Britain, the German construction of a modern highsea fleet. The Bureau did not play a major role in World War I and had few successes to report. In the inter-War era the operations and funding were reduced and control turned over to the Foreign Office. With the rise of NAZI Germany, the Government began to devote more attention to secret operations.
British intelligence was directed by Colonel Stewart Menzies. Menzies struck of a frienship with "Wild Bill" Donovan before he was appointed to head the American inteligence agency--the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). MI6 effectively rolled up the German operatives early in the War. They turned some of them and executed others. British opperatives also provided valuable information about the German rocket program. MI6 data on the German rocket program helped to significantly limits its impact. The greatest Allied achievement was in misleading the the Germans about the location of the D-Day landings. As the landings were launched from England, this was primarily but not entirely a British achievement. The Ressistance movements in occupied countries provided a great deal of valuable information. Here the French Resistance waz particulrly important in preparing for D-Day. The British obtained some valuable information from tapeing high ranking German POWs.
The Nationalist Spy master was General Dai Li. He oversaw nearly 1000,000 Chinese guerrillas as well as anonther 20,000 operatives that might be called individualists. This included a range of rival private groups of various descriptions. tHere were also lone wolf operatives. Japan early on with he outbreal of war in China, occupied much of western China, including most of the major cities and ports. Dail Li operatives occupied behinf Japnese lines and in part thnks to them, the Japanese hold on China was not form beyond the major cities and ail lines. Soon after Pearl Harbor the U.S, Navy saw that the Pacofic Fleet needed meterological data from China. Weather over western China could help the Pacific Fleet understand how weather would develop in the Pacific. As a result, Captain Milton 'Mary' Miles was disparched to China to work something out with the Chinese.He met Dai Li and the result was Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). The United States would station some 3,000 servicemen, many sailors, to China. The OSS also participated. SACO came to be called the Rice Padduy Navy and is ine of the least known inteligemce opeation occurring during the War. [Kush]
French intelligence during World War II is a very compolicated story. The Deuxième Bureau was established as the French external military intelligence by the Third Republic (1871). The French worked with the Poles on the German Enigna Machine during the inter-War period. This effort was closed down as the Germans crossed the Seine (June 1940). The Germans never learned from either the Poles or French that Enigma had been cracked before the War.
Vichy's intelligence service was organized by the Centre d’information gouvernemental (Center for Government Information, CIG) under the direction of Admiral François Darlan.
Several agencies in Vichy were involved in intelligence. The Bureau des Menées Antinationales (Bureau of Anti-national Activities, BMA), was officially established to supress communist and Free French resistance efforts. The Germans had no problem with this effort, in part because some authors see it as a cover for collaboration with the Germans.
The innocuously named "L’entreprise des Travaux Ruraux" (The Rural Work Enterprise) was theoretically an agricultural engineering program, but in fact conducted clandestine counter-espionage operations. It was commanded by Captain Paillole.
Vichy thus launched a major effort to track down and arrest spies and resistant fighters. Vichy secret agents arrested more than 2,000 spies (1940-42). This is fairly well know, especially the effort to arrest Free French, British, and Communist agents. Less well known is that the Vichy authorities also went after German and Italian spies. Actual German and Italian agents of course could not be touched. French citizens working for the Germans could and were arrested. The NAZI agents were seeking Jews, Communists, and Free French, but they were also reporting on Vichy to the NAZIs. Vichy executed several dozen German agents. [Kitson] This was done at the same time Vichy itself was actively colaborating with the NAZIs.
Vichy dissolved the BMA (August 1942), I think under pressure from the Germans. Pierre Laval and Admiral Darlan, however, clandestinely replaced it with the Military Security Service (MSS) seeing it as necesary to preserve Vichy sovereignty. Paillole was also given control of the MSS.
The Germans after the Allied Torch landings in North Africa, moved into unoccupied southern France (November 1942).
French intelligence operations of course also included the resistance effort. The Free French government-in-exile in London created an intelligence service (July 1940). General Charles de Gaulle assigned Major Dewavrin to build the organization. It was first known as the Service de Renseignements (SR). The name was chnged to the Bureau central de renseignements et d’action militaire (BCRAM) (April 1941). The name was afain changed to the Bureau central de renseignements et d’action (BCRA) (January 1942).
Military attacks on the Germans were for the most part not possible, in part because of the brutality of the German respone. Attacks on French collaborators were more common. The main activity of the French Resistance was to gather information on German military disposition and activities to provide the Allies in Britain planning the D-Day lsndings. Also of critical inportance was the location of the launching ramps for the V-1 bizz bombs. As a result of these and other reports, the Allies were able to delay the German V-1 campaign until after D-Day (June 1944). This work was was very dangerous and a substantial number of very brave men and women bought this information with their lives.
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 camouflage 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.
There were two Italian intelligence services during World War II. The first was the military's intelligence agency--the Servizio Informazione Militari (SIM). The second was the Fascist Party's intelligence service--the Opera Volantario per la Regressione Dell’ Autifasismo (OVRA) The difference between the two is similar to that of the Abwehr and the SD in NAZI Germany. Italy under Mussolini desired to build a Meditteranean empire. The first step was to secure Libya which was done by the Army. Another major objective was obtain control over Italian-populated areas of the Adriatic which meant Yugoslav territory. Yugosalavia had a powerful enough military that the Italiahns did not dare attack. Rather they worked to promote domestic disscenion among the ethnic minorities. The Italians provided financing and training to Croatian nationalists. We are not sure what specific agencies were involved, but believe it was primarily OVRA. The Italians also supported Arab nationalists in the Middle East to weaken the British and French position. After the Italians seized Albania (1939), OVRA formed an independent battalion in Tetovo--the Ljuboten batalion. Ethnic Albanians in the Tetovo region wwere recruited. The Battalion was financed by the Tetovo municipal governent under the authority of Dzafer Sulejmani, the president of the Tetovo district, who cooperated with the Italians. The Batallion was employed in the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia to combat resistance forces and help create a Greater Albania. After the Italian surrender (September 1943), the Germans incorporated the Batalion in their forces, but it was decimated by the partisans a few months later. OVRA was involved in identifying anti-Fascists among the Italian communities abroad. Before World War II, Mussolini was viewed favorably in some quarters as a anti-Bolshevik. Italians diplomats and OVRA agents attempted to get the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to take action against Italian anti-Fascists in Canada. [Iacovetta, Perin, and Principe, pp. 58-59.] Canadian authorities rejected requests to deport the anti-Fascists to Itaky, but did not act to stop OVRA's attempts to harass the disidents.
Japan beginning with the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) engaged in a series of scuccessful wars which built an empire in east Asia. They event humiliated Russia (1904-05). The role of the inteligence services is rarely discussed in historical accounts. The role of intelligence in World War II is much more widely discussed, but usually from the Allied side. The Japanese collected information on Pearl Harbor before the War. The resulting attack (Decembr 1941)which is usually depicted as amajor success. In fact it was a cataclysmic intelligence failure. The goal of the attack was to destroy the American Pacific Fleet's carriers. In fact not one was present. The Japanse did sink the eight battleships they found at Pearl, but sestroyed only three. And as the Pacific War would later show, these battleships were largely obsolete. And in exchange for this phyric victory, Japan found itself at war with the United States. Their major intelligence success occurred early in the War, obtaining information on the defenses of Singapore. The fall of the British bastion was one of the great shocks of the War (April 1942). After Singapore, however, Japanese intelligence played little role in the War. And the Ichi-Go offensive in China was based on information they acquired about the planned strategic bombing campaign. The results, however, were negated when the Americans seized the Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific (June 1944). It was the American intelligence services that played a major role in the War, breaking the Japanese naval codes. Even after the Coral Sea (April 1942), thecJapanese intelligence services failed to conclude that the naval codes had been broken. This made possible the American victory at Midway (June 1942), a vicyory from whih the Japnese Navy never recovered. Throught the War, the inteligence services were never able to correctly assess the status of American naval forces.
Polish cryptologists broke the German Enigma Machine several years before World War II. Just before the War, the Germans made changes which closed the Poles out. The Polish effort, however, laid the ground work for achievements of Blechly Park. The Polish resistance fed informartion to the Allies throughout the war. The most important information forward to Londin was on the German rocket research at Peenemünde on the Baltic Coast where the V-1s and V-2s were being developed. This was part of the inteligence information that that led to the Allied bombing raids which set back the German V-weapon projects (August 1943).
Portugal was neutral during World War II. The country had a history of close relations with Britain, but there was strong Fascist sympathies in the Salazar Estado Novo government. And the Government had to be concerned after the fall of France (June 1940) with placating the Germans. The Germans were concerned about Portugal. It was near Gibraltar, had a long Atlantic coast whicgh could support U-boat operations and had vital possessuions (Maderia and the Azores). The country had, howver, a very small, poorly equipped Army. There was a possibility of a Spanish and/or German invasion. Portugal as a neutral country carried out commerce with both the Germans and British a well as other neutral countries like the United States (before America entered the War). The country was especially important as vital source of tungsten for the German war effort. Because of the this commerce the country became a hot bed of spies. It provided a way of inserting intelligence agents or supporting spy networks in both Allied and Axis countries as well as in neutral countries, primarily Latin American countries. It is unclear to what extent the Salazar Government was aware of these efforts, but clearly elements in the Government were aware if not supported such efforts. The Germans attempted to recruit wireless operators on Portugese merchant and fishing vessels to report Allied ship traffic. The Portuguese fishing fleet had a centuries old tradition of opperating on the Grand Banks. This of course was astride the vital convoys routes between North Amnerica and Britain.
The Soviet Union operated perhaps the most sucessful spy networks. The intelligence abnd state security functions were merged in the Soviet state. And the primary focus before the War was on domestic threats to the refime. This led to the Great Purges and an emenge Gulag, mostly populated with entirely innocent individuals. As part of the Grat Purges, Stalin severly weakened Sovier security by purging the military. When war began, the Red Army and Air Force was left without competent commanders at all levels. The greatest intelligence failure of the War, was the Soviet Uniins failure to prepare for the NAZI invasion--Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). This was not, however, a failure of the intelligence servives. Stalin had ampel warning. He even berated military and intelligence functionaries who attempted to warn him. The Soviets operated the most effective spy networks in Germany as well as in Allied countries. he existence of Communist Party organizations and individuals sympathetic to the Soviet Union proved a great asset in recruiting agents. The Red Army although not highly respected by the Wehrmcht, proved very adept as desguising their major offensives during the War. Spy rings in the United States obtained information from the Manhattan Project that helped build a Soviet atomic bomb after the War. We have been able to find little information on Soviet code breaking operations.
Hitler and Mussolini played key roles assuring Francisco Franco's victory in the Civil War (1936-39). The Falange Party was a Fascist Party, although Franco held back from fully emplementingb Falangist policies. He did not particvipte in the Hollocayst. He did not turn over Spanish Jews and allowed several thousand Jewisdh refugees to escape through Spain. Hitler expected Franco to enter the War on the Axis side and was shocked when he met with Franco at Hendaye and Franco refused to do so or to allow a Wehrmacht force to cross Spain and seize Gibraltar (October 1940). Ironically, it was Admiral Canaris, the Germany spy master who provided Franco the information he needed to defy Hitler.
Franco committed a Spanish divisuion (the Blue Division) to the Eastern Front, but never declared war. Franco did support the Axis in a number of ways. One of those was to support Axis espionage in the United states as Spain managaed to maintain diplomatic relations with the United States throughout the War. The Spanish took over the Japanese Embassy after Pearl Harbor and money was secreted there for espionage operations. The Spanish atttempted to pass on funds and even a valuable pearl necklace to a Japanese spy ring in America. Angel Alcázar De Velasco, an ex-bullfighter, was Spain's top spy in the United States. [Alcázar] He provided some limited information to the Germans on the Manhattan Project. This was probably the source of the limited information the Japanese had. The Spanish who also had a embassy in Britain attempted pass on finds to German spies there. Both the Americans and British were aware of these efforts. Magic provided details to the Americans. And the Btitish had arrested or turned the German spies. After the FBI ininiated a major effort against German spy rings in Latin An\merica, their operations were disrupted. This was especially the case after Brazil entered the war. The German espionage rings were never completely eliminated. A major element was assistabce from not only the Chilen and Argentine German communities, but also aid from Spanish diplmats. The crews of Spanish ships also provided numerous potential couriers.
Alcázar De Velasco, Angel. Memorias de un Agente Secreto. Alcázar's claims in his book have to be taken with considerable sceptisism, but they do show that Spain was actively engaged in espionage and passing information on the the Germans and Japnese.
Iacovetta, Franca, Roberto Perin, and Angelo Principe. Enemies Within.
Kitson, Simon. Catherine Tihanyi, trans. The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France.
Kush, Linda. The Rice Paddy Navy: U.S. Sailors Undercovr in China (2012).
Navigate the CIH World War II Pages:
[Return to Main World War II Spying and Countet-Intelligence page]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]