- Winter, Barbara
- Naval Intelligence, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1991 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
‘This measure has been taken in order to reduce significantly the circle of those who know the product of cryptanalysis, and thus to reduce the danger of a revelation of the possibilities of cryptanalysis as far as possible.’
In the [X]-B-Reports, the letters designating convoys were given, as were the code names of most convoys on the move, and the routes they were following. The maps with these reports would send cold shivers up and down the spine of any merchant seaman who was working on the Atlantic convoys at that time.
Naturally, the reports do not generally indicate which ciphers were being broken, but some material sent by agents or by Italy or Japan is sourced. One cipher which was clearly being broken at that time was the cipher of the British naval attachés, e.g. [X]-B 47/41 quotes a report from the Admiralty to the British naval attaché in Turkey that Turkey was to be supplied with two destroyers and a submarine. [X]-B 49/41 quotes several reports from the naval attaché in Ankara regarding scuttling charges in Russian ships passing through the Bosphorus and the capacity of Turkish shipbuilding yards.
It was not only the attaché in Turkey whose cipher was being read. [X]-B 50/41 mentions a question from the Admiralty to the attaché in Rio concerning an unidentified submarine which might have been Brazilian, while [X]-B 51/41 quotes a report from the attaché in Madrid concerning the German tanker Germania.
Reports from secret agents were contained in the less secret B-Reports. Most of the ones in this period came from Spain, principally concerning Gibraltar, and the Admiralty was aware that Spanish agents reporting to the Abwehr were a source of danger to Gibraltar. However, it was unlikely to have been aware of an agent with occasional access to the naval base at Simonstown (Cape Town) who was reporting shipping and arrivals and installation changes, as in B-Report 48/41. Although it is believed that all German agents in England had been caught and were operating as double agents, some appear to have been operating in South Africa and India, as well as in neutral countries. Kormoran’s War Diary mentions an agent in Valparaiso. With good reason, the German naval intelligence was not always impressed with the accuracy of these reports.
Although German interest in Australia was limited, the B-Dienst was monitoring Belconnen, at least, and possibly Harman and other stations. Following is a list, from reports 45/41 to 51/41 inclusive of mentions of matters relevant to Australia Station or RAN ships. The reports were in all cases compiled five days before the circulation date, and the information could have been available six days before that. Comparison of the origin of the content of the B and [X]-B reports show the nature of the source which was being protected.
B 45/41: 14 November: East Indies: Canberra was in Colombo from 21. to 22.10, Exeter from 24. to 25.10. Enterprise arrived on 23.10, Cornwall and Mauritius on 26.10.
Australia: According to W/T traffic, cruiser Adelaide was in the vicinity of New Zealand on 5.11.
B 46/41: 21 November: Australia. On 10.11 at 0900 a drifting mine was sighted in 3834 S 14822 E (Bass Strait). On 16.11 Belconnen reported a drifting mine in the latitude of Sydney.
[X]-B 46/41: 21 November: Eastern Mediterranean: Neptune and Hobart took part in the bombardment of Bardia in the night of the 26.10. In the eastern Mediterranean, the following cruisers were identified by name: Ajax, Aurora, Galathea, Hobart, Neptune and Penelope, probably Arethusa, Carlisle, and Perth.
A convoy which was supposed to reach Colombo (?) on the afternoon of the 14.11 was taken over by the cruiser Cornwall on 11.11 at about 11(10) S …. East.
B 47/41: 28 November: Indian Ocean: According to press reports, Prince of Wales has left Cape Town for the Indian Ocean. Battle cruiser Repulse was recently reported in Colombo. Wireless interception gives no indication of the presence of further battleships in the Indian Ocean. East Indies: According to W/T traffic, aircraft carrier Hermes and cruiser Canberra were in the area of Cape Town on 19.11. [Canberra, at least, was not.]
According to an Italian report, Australia will be docked in Simonstown from 29.11 to 3.12.