World War II: Anti-NAZI German Spying--The Oslo Report

Figure 1.--

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-6 extremely valuable information on German scientific wapons research. It has been described as the most serious breach of German scientific research security durung World War II. Nothing like it was obtained by the Germans on Allied weapons research.

Hans Ferdinand Mayer (1895-1980)

German physicist Hans Ferdinand Mayer worked for the electronic firm Siemens. He was hired by the Siemens Laboratory for long-distance Telephony research (1924). He worked on developin interference-free long distance transmissions. He took over as lab research director (1935). As a result, he came into contact with other research units needing high-quality long-distance broadcasts. He was horified at what the NAZIs were doing. In November 1939 he would not have known of the Hollocaust, but he was probably motivated by what he has wtnessed in Germany itself. He thus did his best to supply information on the German scientific work developing new weapons systems that he had learned about. A business trip to Scandinavia (October-November 1939) gave him the opportunity to pass the informtion on to the British. The Gestapo became suspicious of him because of his anti-NAZI attitudes. They were not aware, however, of the extent of his spying activities. The Gestap arrested him because he was listening to foreign radio broadcasts and had nade anti-Nazi statements. He was interned him in Daccau (1943). He somehow mananaged to survive. After the War he emigrated to the United States and became a professor of astrophysics at Cornell University. The British released the Oslo Report after the War (1947), but did not indcate te source. Mayer's spying activities remained unknown until 1989 when MI-6 scientific expert R.V. Jones revealed it. [Jones, pp. 333-37]

British Embassy in Oslo

The British naval attaché in Oslo after the outbreak of World War II received two anonanous letters (November 1939). Norway at the time was a neutral nation with a British and German embassy and with British anfd German citizens wirking in various capacities in the country. Naval Attaché Hector Boyes receved a letter asking whether the British would like to have information on technical research and development underway in Germany. The writer did not want to meet with Boyes, and instructed him to signal interest in the announcement of the BBC World Service German news broadcasts. It shouuld begin, “Hullo, hier ist London”. The BBC reluctantly complied. As a result, a parcel arrived at the Embassy (November 5). It contained a vacuum tube designed to serve as a sensor in a proximity fuze. There was also a 7-page typewritten document in German. This is what we now know as the Oslo Report. The Embassy had no idea who sent them. Theywere signed "a German scientist, who is on your side". The Embassy forwarded the letters to London.


The letters were forwarded to MI-6 which assigned them to scientist, R. V. Jones for assessment.


The letters proved to be a treasure trove for the British. They provided an invaluanle overview of Germans weapons research, including data on the nost secret weapons development programs. There were details on German scientific work on a number of new weapons systems. There were decriptions of the V-weapons, radar, proximity fuze, aircraft guidance beams, and several other mastters. There was no reference to nuclear research. This was the first report the British received on the V-weapons. There were details on the triggering device for proximity were better than what the British were developing. Mayer was a scientist and not a soldier. Thus much of the scientific-technical information is very accurate, especially the projects on which he had personal knowledge. He included second-had information which was less accurate. The references to overall military matters is less so and some times absured. This is one reason that many British analysts were suspious of the overall contents.


Useful intelligence involves not only obtaining reports, but evaluating. A great deal of information is false or misleading, sometimes intenionally so. This can be the result of enemy misinformation or work by other groups attempting to influence state action. Rhere were problems with assessing the informstion. Some of the German weapons were extremely innovative, such as the V-weapons. There were no definitive English terms for these weapoons and translting from the German caused additional problems. Jones believed that the letters contained accurate informntion, but at first had no way of proving it. His superiors did not trust the letters, in part because they had no idea as to the source. Jones' colleagues in MI-6 saw the letters as unreliable or perhaps even German misinformation. Jones would not figure out who the authorwas until 10 years after the War. Subsequent develooments would prove the letters to be remarkably accurate. Opinions only began to change as the Germans started introducing the weapons described in the letters.


The information in the letters helped Jones counter the various beam systems the Luftwaffe developed to guide bombers on to British cities. Jones used the letters to help organize his assessment of German sciebtific work and to interpret subsequent reports and data obtained on German weapons development. Jones after the War judged the letters the best information received from any single individual during the War. He wrote that Mayer having "in one great flash…given us a synoptic glimpse of much of what was foreshadowed in German military electronics." [Jones, p.275.]


Jones, R.V. Reflections on Intelligence (London, 1989).


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Created: 4:09 PM 11/21/2009
Last updated: 4:09 PM 11/21/2009