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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
    More: Followup, Winston Churchill, Coventry, Nazis, Luftwaffe, intelligence analysts, White House correspondent, Enigma machines, Marc Ambinder  
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4213 clicks; posted to Geek » on 06 Dec 2012 at 4:20 PM (5 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»

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2012-12-06 09:10:47 PM  
2 votes:

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 05:14:44 PM  
2 votes:
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2012-12-06 10:49:43 PM  
1 vote:

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.
2012-12-06 09:36:27 PM  
1 vote:
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 06:46:56 PM  
1 vote:
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 06:42:28 PM  
1 vote:
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 05:10:53 PM  
1 vote:
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2012-12-06 04:31:26 PM  
1 vote:
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 02:38:56 PM  
1 vote:
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 02:25:00 PM  
1 vote:
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
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