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(The Week)   Remember the story that Winston Churchill deliberately let the city of Coventry be bombed into oblivion so the Nazis wouldn't realize we'd broken their codes? Yeah, it didn't actually happen it turns out   (theweek.com) divider line 40
    More: Followup, Winston Churchill, Coventry, Nazis, Luftwaffe, intelligence analysts, White House correspondent, Enigma machines, Marc Ambinder  
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4203 clicks; posted to Geek » on 06 Dec 2012 at 4:20 PM (2 years ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2012-12-06 02:25:00 PM  
The truth is that Churchill did something far worse, and far braver, early in the air war against Germany: He ordered an RAF strike on Berlin, breaking an unwritten rule that the powers wouldn't attack each other's capitals. Hitler was so incensed that he ordered the London Blitz in retaliation. This got a lot of British civilians killed, but probably saved Britain from defeat. The bombers that attacked London were previously employed attacking RAF airfields and destroying their fighter panes . Britain was running out of both pilots and Planes at that point and if it had kept up , the Luftwaffe would have achieved air superiority in Britain and an invasion of the British Isles would have certainly followed, and without air support, or America's troops. England wouldn't have stood a chance.

"It's entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.
Suppress it! You don't know the horrible aspects of war. I've been through two wars and I know. I've seen cities and homes in ashes. I've seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!
"

-WT Sherman
 
2012-12-06 02:38:56 PM  
No, but remember his dream of owning a big house on a hill and how he used to wish for a living room with a plaster lion in it from Mexico and how he always wanted a large twenty four seat dining table in a dining room with original oil paintings by Michelangelo and Rembrandt and remember how he always wanted a rotating bed with pink chiffon and zebra stripes and remember how he used to chit chat with his dad about always wanting a bathtub shaped like a clam and an office with orange and white stripes and remember how much he wanted an all red billiard room with a giant stuffed camel and how he wanted a disco room with his own disco dancers and a party room with fancy friends and remember how much he wanted a big backyard with Grecian statues, s-shaped hedges and three swimming pools?
 
2012-12-06 02:57:43 PM  
The veracity of that story has always been in doubt, but it serves as a useful metaphorical reference.
 
2012-12-06 03:50:55 PM  
Nearly every town in Britain has a story about how Lord Haw-Haw announced how the clock on the town hall was five minutes slow that morning, or how the Germans had attempted a landing but were incinerated by a secret fuel oil weapon, or their town wasn't bombed because Hitler had spent a summer there as a boy.

Folk myths never die.
 
2012-12-06 04:14:29 PM  
Its Coventry, the Albuquerque of the UK. Its not like that city had any sort of importance.
 
2012-12-06 04:23:28 PM  

Nadie_AZ: No, but remember his dream of owning a big house on a hill and how he used to wish for a living room with a plaster lion in it from Mexico and how he always wanted a large twenty four seat dining table in a dining room with original oil paintings by Michelangelo and Rembrandt and remember how he always wanted a rotating bed with pink chiffon and zebra stripes and remember how he used to chit chat with his dad about always wanting a bathtub shaped like a clam and an office with orange and white stripes and remember how much he wanted an all red billiard room with a giant stuffed camel and how he wanted a disco room with his own disco dancers and a party room with fancy friends and remember how much he wanted a big backyard with Grecian statues, s-shaped hedges and three swimming pools?


Yeah, but all he needed was this ashtray.
 
2012-12-06 04:27:33 PM  
WWII truthers are the worst type of truther.
 
2012-12-06 04:28:00 PM  

unyon: Nadie_AZ: No, but remember his dream of owning a big house on a hill and how he used to wish for a living room with a plaster lion in it from Mexico and how he always wanted a large twenty four seat dining table in a dining room with original oil paintings by Michelangelo and Rembrandt and remember how he always wanted a rotating bed with pink chiffon and zebra stripes and remember how he used to chit chat with his dad about always wanting a bathtub shaped like a clam and an office with orange and white stripes and remember how much he wanted an all red billiard room with a giant stuffed camel and how he wanted a disco room with his own disco dancers and a party room with fancy friends and remember how much he wanted a big backyard with Grecian statues, s-shaped hedges and three swimming pools?

Yeah, but all he needed was this ashtray.


And this remote control.
 
2012-12-06 04:30:24 PM  

St_Francis_P: unyon: Nadie_AZ: No, but remember his dream of owning a big house on a hill and how he used to wish for a living room with a plaster lion in it from Mexico and how he always wanted a large twenty four seat dining table in a dining room with original oil paintings by Michelangelo and Rembrandt and remember how he always wanted a rotating bed with pink chiffon and zebra stripes and remember how he used to chit chat with his dad about always wanting a bathtub shaped like a clam and an office with orange and white stripes and remember how much he wanted an all red billiard room with a giant stuffed camel and how he wanted a disco room with his own disco dancers and a party room with fancy friends and remember how much he wanted a big backyard with Grecian statues, s-shaped hedges and three swimming pools?

Yeah, but all he needed was this ashtray.

And this remote control.


And this paddle-ball game.
 
2012-12-06 04:31:26 PM  
Even if it was true, he still would have made the right decision. Breaking Enigma saved a shiatload more than the 600 people killed and 900 injured.
 
2012-12-06 04:34:46 PM  
No, but I remember the story where someone thought that the Allies had broken the code before Coventry, and wrote a letter to the editor about it that nearly tipped off the Germans, but then time-travelers removed that person from her previous expected place in time in an attempt to locate the object that was stolen that caused her to write the letter.

/that might have been fiction though
 
2012-12-06 04:37:50 PM  

LazarusLong42: No, but I remember the story where someone thought that the Allies had broken the code before Coventry, and wrote a letter to the editor about it that nearly tipped off the Germans, but then time-travelers removed that person from her previous expected place in time in an attempt to locate the object that was stolen that caused her to write the letter.

/that might have been fiction though


To Say Nothing Of The Dog by Connie Willis. Great book.
 
2012-12-06 04:47:57 PM  
John Sheridan will have to revise his story in a couple hundred years now.
 
2012-12-06 05:10:53 PM  
img.gawkerassets.com

img.gawkerassets.com 
 
2012-12-06 05:14:44 PM  
aviewfromacarpark.files.wordpress.com
 
2012-12-06 05:18:59 PM  
The urban legend was helped along by Coventry looking like it had been bombed, I presume?
 
2012-12-06 05:24:10 PM  
Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse submitted a better encrypted headline
 
2012-12-06 05:26:05 PM  
Jumbo Jet. Dear me Mr Holmes, dear me.
 
2012-12-06 05:30:40 PM  
You meann he did Nazi that raid coming?
 
2012-12-06 06:11:43 PM  
Then he's calling William Stevenson, aka Intrepid, a liar as well.
 
2012-12-06 06:27:29 PM  

Crunch61: Then he's calling William Stevenson, aka Intrepid, a liar as well.


To be fair, he was a spy. Bullshiating was a primary skill of his. Honestly a lot of this stuff is buried so deep most of us will be dead by the time it all gets released to the general public. IIRC there are files on some of the tactics used by the Allies during the North Africa campaign that are classified until 2050ish.
 
2012-12-06 06:42:28 PM  
The whole mythology constructed around it never made much sense. Generally speaking, averting the destruction of a city (or being able to jump a key enemy commander in transit, or any other kind of strategic effect) is exactly what you want to use your hard-won intelligence for. Holding it as a trump card and waiting for a bigger, better thing to come along only makes sense if you are reasonably certain that the bigger, better thing is imminent and presents a better opportunity for decisive action.

If Bletchley Park had decoded the day's traffic and relayed it to Churchill, he would have acted on it, because it would have been a great opportunity to deprive the Luftwaffe of dozens of expensive low-density, high-demand assets (i.e. veteran pilots).
 
2012-12-06 06:46:56 PM  
Unit 2702 set that whole thing up. Bobby Shaftoe saved the entire island single handedly. You people should be grateful.

Coventry burned down
But it was just to divert
Hitler's attention
 
2012-12-06 06:57:55 PM  
Titanius Anglesmith: John Sheridan will have to revise his story in a couple hundred years now.

In a thousand years, the story will be about how a church on a hill levitated to intercept hundreds of Bonerhitler nukes, saving a brazilian nigmas.
 
2012-12-06 07:01:29 PM  

ZMugg: Yeah, but all he needed was this ashtray.

And this remote control.

And this paddle-ball game.


And my axe!
 
2012-12-06 07:09:08 PM  
He was a socialist.
 
2012-12-06 07:35:09 PM  

Dinobot: Jumbo Jet. Dear me Mr Holmes, dear me.


You forgot the blowing motion while Mycroft hangs his head.

I love that episode. The tension when she says she would make him beg twice...that is eroticism without any nudity or overt sexuality
 
2012-12-06 08:01:47 PM  

Magorn: The truth is that Churchill did something far worse, and far braver, early in the air war against Germany: He ordered an RAF strike on Berlin, breaking an unwritten rule that the powers wouldn't attack each other's capitals. Hitler was so incensed that he ordered the London Blitz in retaliation. This got a lot of British civilians killed, but probably saved Britain from defeat. The bombers that attacked London were previously employed attacking RAF airfields and destroying their fighter panes . Britain was running out of both pilots and Planes at that point and if it had kept up , the Luftwaffe would have achieved air superiority in Britain and an invasion of the British Isles would have certainly followed, and without air support, or America's troops. England wouldn't have stood a chance.


That's a load of crap. The Blitz started on September 7th, Operation Sea Lion was panned for around September 20th, so the Germans would have had at most a few weeks to destroy the RAF before the invasion window would close. And the German attacks on the airfields weren't all that effective:

The effect of the German attacks on airfields is unclear. According to Stephen Bungay Dowding, in a letter to Hugh Trenchard[162] accompanying Park's report on the period 8 August - 10 September 1940, states that the Luftwaffe "achieved very little" in the last week of August and the first week of September.[163] The only Sector Station to be shut down operationally was Biggin Hill, and it was non-operational for just two hours. Dowding admitted 11 Group's efficiency was impaired but, despite serious damage to some airfields, only two out of 13 heavily attacked airfields were down for more than a few hours. The German refocus on London was not critical.[163]

Retired air marshal Peter Dye, head of the RAF Museum, discussed the logistics of the battle in 2000[164] and 2010,[165] dealing specifically with the single-seat fighters. Dye contends that not only was British aircraft production replacing aircraft, but replacement pilots were keeping pace with losses. The number of pilots in RAF Fighter Command increased during July, August and September. The figures indicate the number of pilots available never decreased. From July, 1,200 were available. In 1 August, 1,400 were available. Just over that number were in the field by September. In October the figure was nearly 1,600. By 1 November 1,800 were available. Throughout the battle, the RAF had more fighter pilots available than the Luftwaffe.[164][165] Although the RAF's reserves of single seat fighters fell during July, the wastage was made up for by an efficient Civilian Repair Organisation (CRO), which by December had repaired and put back into service some 4,955 aircraft,[166] and by aircraft held at Air Servicing Unit (ASU) airfields.[167]


In any case, the Germans didn't have the naval or logistical capabilities to sustain an invasion across the channel. They wanted to use river barges to ferry the troops across for fark's sake. The whole thing would have lasted only for as long as it took the Home Fleet to steam down from Scapa Flow and put a stop to the nonsense.
 
2012-12-06 08:12:43 PM  

cman: Its Coventry, the Albuquerque of the UK. Its not like that city had any sort of importance.


I've lived in both towns. I admit to not seeing the resemblance.
 
2012-12-06 08:46:39 PM  
news from 2001 is so NEW!
 
2012-12-06 09:10:47 PM  

Man On Fire: Even if it was true, he still would have made the right decision. Breaking Enigma saved a shiatload more than the 600 people killed and 900 injured.


I'm with you, except for the fact that the British expected the US to be very constrained in their use of Enigma-derived intelligence, but had no qualms about risking it for very temporary advantage. For example, there was the Tarafal Bay incident. Admiral Doenitz had a problem: One U-boat had a sailor with venereal disease, one was low on torpedoes but had a doctor on board, and a third had spare torpedoes and was heading home. A rendezvous for all three boats was set up in Tarafal Bay in the Cape Verde Islands, a place never used by U-boats before.

The British intercepted that traffic, and stupidly sent a submarine to try and sink all three. It was bound to fail, but even if the Brit sub managed to sink all of the U-boats, the Germans would have *KNOWN* that the British were reading their traffic, because Tarafal Bay was a remote, unused area. There was no reason for the British to patrol there.

It turned out that none of the boats sank, and Doenitz knew the British were reading his mail. He even logged it:

It is more likely that our cypher material is compromised or that there has been a breach of security. It appears improbable that an English submarine would be in such an isolated area by accident. The Naval War Staff is therefore taking the necessary steps to safeguard cypher material. -BDU War Diary, September 28th 1941.
 
2012-12-06 09:36:27 PM  
Another example of the profligate British use of Engima intelligence:

After the British managed to sink the Bismarck, they learned through Enigma decrypts of the general locations of the seven supply ships that were to support the Bismarck. It wasn't "same day" decoding, but good enough, and those ships could also support U-boats. So they sent ships to sink five of them, but planned to leave two unmolested. Except that Royal Navy units ran into those other two by coincidence, so in a short time the British managed to sink all seven, which would have been completely unheard of without some kind of intelligence.

A third example is re-routing convoys: Once the British were reading 3 rotor naval Enigma currently, they started re-routing convoys around suspected U-boat positions. The Germans didn't immediately notice the drop, and when they introduced the 4 rotor version that blacked out the Allies, they didn't notice that convoy sightings and sinkings in the Atlantic convoy routes increased because there was also an increase in sinkings on the eastern seaboard of the US.

Then too, the Germans eventually figured out the Allies were reading Enigma, but because they were stuck with it, they couldn't do much: In late 1944, they sent the plans for the Ardennes offensive not by radio (which meant enciphered with Enigma), but by courier. That's why it was a surprise.

Near the very end of the war, the Kriegsmarine did the ultimate in Enigma security: Instead of using common Engima settings for a number of boats in a general area (North Atlantic, North Sea, etc.), each U-boat had its own settings. That made the job of the US Navy (which had taken over breaking U-boat Enigma in 1943 because the Brits couldn't build a reliable 4 rotor cryptologic bombe - something rarely mentioned in the history books) impossible with the limited resources at hand: Though confident they could eventually solve the problem, the war ended before it became necessary.

While it may not have been necessarily common knowledge, based upon German actions near the end of the war, I think at least elements of the Nazi military machine recognized that the Allies were reading the mail.
 
2012-12-06 09:50:18 PM  

cman: Its Coventry, the Albuquerque of the UK. Its not like that city had any sort of importance.


You live in Maine. No difference.

//Ohio, same deal.
 
2012-12-06 09:50:50 PM  

tenpoundsofcheese: news from 2001 is so NEW!


It was old long before that. Indeed I discussed this issue in Usenet in the 1990s. And I and others pointed out that it was debunked many years before that. Indeed it got debunked almost as soon as came out.
 
2012-12-06 10:00:22 PM  
Coventry City is going to get bombed out if they don't pay their stadium rent.
 
2012-12-06 10:49:43 PM  

dbirchall: The urban legend was helped along by Coventry looking like it had been bombed, I presume?


It wasn't just that Coventry got bombed. It was that the German bombers somehow screwed up and bombed the cathedral and town center while trying to hit the rail yards. Then for various reasons, they couldn't get the fire out and the English lost one of the best-preserved Medieval towns in Europe.

Churchill retaliated later by ordering the fire-bombing of Dresden, which was nothing but wanton destruction.
 
2012-12-07 03:18:56 AM  

Magorn: The truth is that Churchill did something far worse, and far braver, early in the air war against Germany: He ordered an RAF strike on Berlin, breaking an unwritten rule that the powers wouldn't attack each other's capitals. Hitler was so incensed that he ordered the London Blitz in retaliation. This got a lot of British civilians killed, but probably saved Britain from defeat. The bombers that attacked London were previously employed attacking RAF airfields and destroying their fighter panes . Britain was running out of both pilots and Planes at that point and if it had kept up , the Luftwaffe would have achieved air superiority in Britain and an invasion of the British Isles would have certainly followed, and without air support, or America's troops. England wouldn't have stood a chance.

"It's entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.
Suppress it! You don't know the horrible aspects of war. I've been through two wars and I know. I've seen cities and homes in ashes. I've seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell! "

-WT Sherman


The attacks on the airfields were far less effective than have been generally thought - only one airfield was out of action for more than 24 hours IIRC. The RAF pilots were less exhausted than their Luftwaffe counterparts and the invasion could not possibly have succeeded because of the Royal Navy. "America's troops" don't enter into it.
 
2012-12-07 07:43:14 AM  
FTFA:
There was a time when the codebreakers DID figure out something disastrous was about to happen to the Royal Navy, in June of 1940. Nothing was done. This was not because the Navy wanted its ships to be destroyed - it was a classic problem of intelligence analysis. Since the secret of Enigma was SO tightly held, the Navy intelligence analysts did not know where these cryptographers were getting their material from, and assumed it was from MI-6's spies (that was the cover story). The Navy didn't trust MI-6 and didn't trust the material and chose to ignore it.

I'm assuming they are talking about the sinking of HMS Glorious, and if so, they've got it completely wrong.

In June of 1940, Harry Hinsley at Bletchley Park had been working on traffic analysis of Kriegsmarine radio traffic. Traffic analysis is the study of things like callsigns, who talks to who, the results of radio direction finding (to locate the units transmitting), how long the messages are, and what importance the messages have, with the intent of trying to figure out what is going to happen. It's not as good a source of intelligence as actually breaking the enemies codes and ciphers, but it can yield useful information.

And so it did: Hinsley was working on traffic analysis because at the time the British hadn't broken naval Enigma, because the Kriegsmarine had *MUCH* better Enigma procedures than either the Wehrmacht or Luftwaffe. Hinsley couldn't read the actual messages, but his analysis of the message traffic sent back and forth indicated that major German surface units were going to sortie out of the Baltic and into the North Sea.

He passed an appropriate warning to the Admiralty in London, which promptly ignored the warning because:
1. Hinsley was some snot-nosed college kid
2. Hinsley wasn't Royal Navy
3. It seemed really vague to them

As such, they didn't issue a warning to ships in the general area, one of which was the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, heading back to Old Blighty after participating in the Norwegian campaign. The captain didn't have a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) up, and apparently didn't even have lookouts posted. The Glorious then ran across the path of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which promptly sank her with a great loss of life.

After that disaster, which was entirely preventable, Hinsley was taken much more seriously by the Admiralty.

But it had pretty much zero to do with breaking Enigma traffic.
 
2012-12-07 07:46:41 AM  

Lord Summerisle: The attacks on the airfields were far less effective than have been generally thought - only one airfield was out of action for more than 24 hours IIRC.


Yeah, trying to hammer the RAF by bombing what are basically cow pastures with a few buildings on them, and perhaps some widely dispersed parked aircraft, is a fools game.
 
2012-12-07 09:40:52 AM  
It seems like a non issue I would say that sinking the french fleet was a pretty solid metric on just how serious Churchill was when it came to winning the war.

Link
 
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