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American Signal Intelligence in Northwest Africa and Western Europe

American Signal Intelligence in Northwest Africa and Western Europe

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While the Allies prepared for SIGINT
production in the field in French North Africa, the
Germans who were to confront them there relied
for similar services upon the abilities of a SIGINT
organization that primarily had been directed
against Soviet targets on the Eastern Front and
only secondarily against the British forces in the
eastern Mediterranean region.
The German Army had begun the formation of
a SIGINT service during the 1920s by establishing
then, and in the next decade, several fixed intercept
stations at sites within Germany. Under control
from a center in Berlin, they were able to monitor
military traffic from the low countries, France, the
British Isles, and the Soviet Union. The Russo-
Finnish War offered ample opportunity to develop
German ability to read Soviet cryptographic

Page 12

systems. During the interval preceding the German
invasion of western Europe in 1940, field SIGINT
regiments (KONAs) had been formed for army
group and army commands from personnel taken
from the fixed stations, plus linguists and mathe-
maticians who had been drafted as reinforcements.
In the months between the collapse of France and
the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the
German SIGINT structure expanded rapidly.4
From 1941 to 1944, the German Army SIGINT
Service operated centers in Berlin and Zossen. All
were under policy control of the Field Army’s
Chief of Intelligence. KONA 4 and KONA 7 (an
abbreviation of “Kommandateur Nachrichten
Aufklaerung”) were intercept and processing units
attached to regional headquarters in Greece and
Italy, respectively. A unit known as Fernaufklaer-
ung Kompanie 621 (FAK 621) was a forward
intercept and analytic unit operating under KONA
4 with the Deutsche Afrika Korps (DAK) in the
Western Desert of Egypt. Not before Rommel’s
German-Italian Panzer Army, Afrika, began its
retreat westward across Libya to Tunisia and only
when the Fifth Panzer Army assumed command of
the Axis forces in Tunisia was KONA 7 organized in
1943 and assigned to Oberbefehlshaber Sued
(Kesselring). FAK 621 while in Tunisia came under
control of KONA 7 and obtained technical support
from KONA 7’s “Evaluation Unit” at Rocca di Papa.
The latter contained about 150 men in sections
concerned with cryptography, cryptanalysis, and
the elements of traffic analysis, direction finding,
and intelligence. The German Air Force put a
SIGINT unit in Sicily at Marsala or Taormina
which cooperated with the Army SIGINT service.
FAK 621, when commanded in the Western
Desert by Captain Alfred Seebohm, included spe-
cialists in the cryptosystems used by the British,
men who had been used during the campaign of
1940 that ended with the French surrender. Their
work in North Africa was aided by the capture, dur-
ing the invasion of France, of at least one British
War Office code, and also for a time much
strengthened by the detailed communications to
Washington from the U.S. Army Attaché in Cairo.

These communications were transmitted in a U.S.
system that the Germans could readily solve.
During the summer of 1942, at just about the
time the Allies decided to invade French North Af-
rica, FAK 621 was attacked and overrun by British
Forces. Captain Alfred Seebohm, the commanding
officer, was fatally wounded. About one-third of its
authorized strength of seven officers and 300 en-
listed men was lost. Their excellent receivers and
direction finders had been used effectively to pro-
duce intelligence reports on British order of battle,
plans, morale, and tactical dispositions — reports
on which Rommel could and did rely. FAK621’s
captured files identified British systems which the
Germans had analyzed and exploited, causing Brit-
ish communications changes that henceforth
deprived the Panzer Army, Afrika, of most of the
SIGINT on which it had been able to rely. The cap-
tured records also included German ciphers and
radio schedules, which, of course, they had to
change. There was no evidence that British special
intelligence had yet been compromised; the British
“Y” service also continued to provide information
of important value to the Eighth Army as it pre-
pared for the battles that ended the German-Italian
threat to Egypt. Remnants of FAK 621 and rein-
forcements were placed under command of a
Captain Habel and reequipped for service in Tuni-
sia.5

German intercept units covered the British
Eighth Army from Italy and the British First Army
from Sicily, while the fixed German Army station at
Montpellier continued to monitor French commu-
nications, including the XIX Corps d’ Armee in
Tunisia. Three direction-finder nets, controlled
from Gabes, Taormina or Marsala, and Rocca di
Papa and connected by combined wire and radio
channels, functioned during the main battles in
Tunisia. Intercept material could be sent to
Oberbefehlshaber Sued (O.B. Sued) that way, or by
courier planes that ran every other day from
Bizerte and every day from Sicily. In the last days of
the Tunisian campaign, after the Allies had gained
air superiority, SIGINT became the main reliance
of the Axis command.

Page 13

When the German Air Force transferred Luft-
flotte 2 from the Eastern Front to the Mediterranean,
with headquarters in Sicily, its two main divisions,
Fliegerkorps II at Messina and Fliegerkorps X at
Heraklion, were given SIGINT services. Until Op-
eration TORCH, during a period of almost two
years, they operated against the Royal Navy, the
Royal Air Force, and the British Eighth Army. The
German-Italian Panzer Army, Afrika, which pushed
its way across the Western Desert into Egypt after
the fall of Tobruk in June 1942, became highly
dependent upon the support of the German Air
Force. Rommel’s defeat at El Alamein and long re-
treat to Tunisia gave his forces some respite from
the RAF until the Allies gained air superiority there
in April 1943.

The German Air Force SIGINT service came
from units of varying size that were placed with
operating units at Mediterranean bases. The
Luftwaffe had created its SIGINT agency, Chi/
Stelle, OB dL, in 1937 and worked on air traffic
there thereafter. It had a fixed station within
Germany at Oberhaching known as W-Leit 13
which monitored French and British traffic from
Africa. Luftwaffe SIGINT South with units at Ath-
ens and a fixed station near Athens, was augmented
when Field Marshal Kesselring took up his air and
theater commands as O.B. Sued.
The German Air Force units each made their
own evaluations of what they had intercepted and
deciphered. Deciphered messages were sent imme-
diately to higher SIGINT headquarters, to other
SIGINT organizations, and to the flying units,
where the air intelligence officer made an ultimate
evaluation. Luftflotte 2 had in Taormina an Evalu-
ation Company (W-Leit 2) attached. During 1943
several outstations to intercept HF communica-
tions were established under W-Leit 2. Like British
Army traffic in northern Africa, RAF operational
communications also ceased to be readable in
1943, obliging W-Leit 2 to rely on traffic analysis,
tracking of flying routes, interception of radiotele-
phone traffic, and radar intelligence (RADINT).
At the end of the campaign in Tunisia, when the
invasion of Sicily was in preparation, and when the

surrender of Italy was the subject of highly secret,
clandestine negotiations, W - Leit 2 departed
Taormina a few days ahead of the Allied parachute
and beach landings farther south. It set up at Fra-
scati to remain there almost a year before being
bombed out.

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