Hitler’s Spies

Title picture: Civilian members, officers and a foreigner (called Sonderführer) of a Hamburg radio station. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2005-0154 / CC-BY-SA


I had the idea for this essay during the conference „Geheimdienste: Netzwerke, Seilschaften und Patronage in nachrichtendienstlichen Institutionen“ in September 2014 in Erfurt. One of the moderators, Gerhard Sälter, a member of the commission on the history of the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst), the German Federal Intelligence Service, at one point said: How information was shared had been the biggest difference comparing Germany’s and its partners’ “intelligence culture” before 1945 with that of the Allies, especially when it comes to how the United Kingdom and the United States exchanged the information their secret services had gained. The Allies often held conferences to discuss their affairs on different levels. The Germans at the same time not only refused to hold meetings, but even distrusted their allies. This is quite remarkable and I agree with Sälter’s description. But there are some more facts about the military intelligence in Nazi Germany worth telling about.



For the point of different “intelligence culture” see also the interview with Prof. Dr. Sönke Neitzel (German)


Germany does not have an intelligence culture like that of the United Kingdom or the United States. For the term “intelligence culture” different aspects play an important role, for example the academic professionalization and the discussion of history and current work of the secret service. German historians interested in such a special field often have to defend themselves – a result from the general mistrust towards secret state services in Germany. In other countries especially the foreign intelligence service often has quite a good reputation with its citizens. Think only of the British fondness for a certain fictional figure and the romantic idea of being a spy. Not so in Germany, as Reinhard Gehlen, the first BND president wrote in the foreword of his memoirs in 1971:


In the Anglo-Saxon world as well as in the Soviet Union there are consequently no discussions about the importance and task-related nature of such an establishment [meaning: foreign intelligence services]; the participation is, especially in England, not regarded as disreputable, but as an evidence of particular trustworthiness. It is a “gentlemen’s business”, that finds support in people’s faith, and not a backdoor business or a James Bond adventure. Germans, however, until today in wide circles do not recognize the importance of such a valuable instrument.”

(Gehlen, Der Dienst. 1971. S. 14. Translation: Lutz Kirchner)


I will talk about Gehlen further below. This account is in my opinion even more reliable today than it was in 1971 or before.

Today’s discord between Germany and the United States, or better the “Five Eyes” (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand – a group of states that had found its joint interests in the Second World War!) came from the exposures of whistleblower Edward Snowden. Many citizens in those countries do not understand the Germans’ outcry, because in their perspective every country spies on others. The German BND as well has its own skeletons in the closet: Spying on politicians even from allied countries for example. Something that has happened only accidentally, of course…

But nonetheless Germans have a deep-rooted fear when it comes to state power using secret methods of spying, as the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei) during the Nazi-reign did as well as the Stasi (Staatssicherheitsdienst) in the GDR. Therefore – at least when looking at one side of the coin – we never ever want an all-knowing, ever-present secret service controlling us ever again.

I think there is also another factor for the Germans’ mistrust in secret intelligence and the lacking of a German “intelligence culture”: its failures, especially in the Second World War. The problem is, though, a message is as good as its messenger, and a secret service that had been at fault, loses its trustworthiness. In other European democracies and the United States, one will find these faults one day, but their important work – especially during times of war – today are still well remembered an appreciated.

The modern foreign intelligence services are the results of developments during the time after the First World War. Before 1914, the most important objects of intelligence were military institutes, mainly divided in army and navy departments. This incorporated the spying on military technologies, stealing plans of army deployment in case of war, radiolocation of foreign ships and units, deciphering collected wireless messages, and counter intelligence in the own barracks, staffs and factories. Some foreign services strived to gather more information about other countries and many diplomats gathered information from more sources then the daily newspapers. But a foreign intelligence service with interests in every aspects of a country was at first established with the creation of the Soviet Union and its “Cheka” (the predecessor of the famous cold war secret service KGB) after the Great War. One country after another founded such a “multi-purpose” secret service or changed the military intelligence service to a multi-use service.

In Germany the end of World War One also was the end of the existing (military) intelligence service. The German intelligence in World War One was not very successful and its further necessity was dubious. The Treaty of Versailles 1919 banned the German General Staff and its associated establishments. Yet, in 1919 the “Abwehrgruppe” (Defence Group, to outline the break up with the imperial past) and the “T3” or “Militärstatistische Abteilung” (Army Statistical Division) in the “Truppenamt” (Troop Office, the then still hidden General Staff) was founded. The task of the Abwehr was counter intelligence in the armed forces of Germany and gathering information of foreign armies through agents, radiolocation and decrypting. The regular Signal Corps of the Army made the mass of radiolocation. The “Statistical Division” was a simple camouflage of the “Foreign Armies Division”, a branch of the General Staff, which was banned in 1919; it should evaluate the different news from Abwehr, Signal Corps or free sources like newspapers. The same detachments were established in the German Navy. The main workforce were soldiers, mainly officers who had served for three years either in the Abwehr or the Statistical Division and after that were sent to other branches of the armed forces.

A real strategic espionage comparable to other countries was never established. They were “officers and gentlemen” and such people did not spy. “Battlefield intelligence”, or better “reconnaissance”, was their favourite job, like count Zeppelin 1870, when he rode behind the enemy lines and brought back information about the deployment of the French army. But most did not seek secret businesses like buying secret information from dubious sources or blackmail other officers to gather information. Of course, the Abwehr established agents, called V-Men (for “Vertrauensmänner” – trustworthy men), in foreign countries or sent civilians and officers with a fake civil background behind the frontiers to infiltrate, gather information or make acquaintances with people that had a certain security clearance. But a long-term establishment of agents was neither planned nor actually happened.



Here the typical German espionage thriller of the 1920s is shortly discussed by Frederik Müllers (in German).


The Abwehr was subordinated T3 until 1928, when it became an independent part of the Ministry of Defence. The – rather good – idea was that a central “Abteilung Abwehr” in all branches of the armed forces (Army, Navy, and not yet established but prepared Air Force) would reduce the cost and the reciprocal aversions of Army and Navy. Above all, the Navy had the better radio monitoring and more V-Men, the Army-Officers could learn from. The bad idea: The evaluation services of Army and Navy staffs were now petitioners of news. In the small Reichswehr, containing 100.000 soldiers in the army and 15.000 in the Navy, this was no valid problem; staff officers knew one another so they could talk to each other privately and solve their troubles like the gentlemen they saw themselves. This changed with Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 and the stormy expansion and constant growth of the now so-called Wehrmacht.

The Abwehr, 1938 officially called “Amt Ausland/Abwehr” now became part of the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht – High Command of the Wehrmacht) and was expanded as well: From 150 officers, soldiers and civilian employees in 1933 it grew to about 2,000 members at the outbreak of World War II and even further to 21,495 members in 1941. Additional to this full-time “employees” was an incalculable number of agents.

The Abwehr consisted of one department – responsible for training military attachés, foreign press and dealing with legal affairs – and 4 sections (Z for organization, I for secret intelligence, II for sabotage and disruption and III for counter intelligence), each divided in different departments responsible for regions, purposes or military branches. Two problems occurred: first, the leader of the Abwehr, since 1935 this was Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, was a monarchist and nationalist, but did not like the Nazis for their boorish behaviour. The expansion of the Abwehr demanded too much of him and so he started to promote mostly friends, who were against the Nazi reign as well and who in many cases were as much as himself unqualified for the task. The failures of the Abwehr made Canaris in Hitler’s and his satrap´s eyes rather suspect, the elite-attitude of the mainly monarchist officers made this worse. The other problem was the separation of intelligence gathering and evaluation. I will come to that point further below.



Admiral Wilhelm Canaris 1940. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1979-013-43 / CC-BY-SA

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris 1940. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1979-013-43 / CC-BY-SA



But the Abwehr branch I was not the only “finder” (as David Kahn described the secret services of Germany) responsible for gathering military and sometimes political information. At the outbreak of World War II there were many different services – all of them forbidden to talk to each other – competing among one another.

1. All of the three branches of Abwehr spied outside Germay. While Abwehr I was responsible for gathering secret information, the two others spied for more information for sabotage or counter intelligence if needed. The failure in the whole organisation became rather obvious, the three branches only worked in their own field and even the front commands of the three branches fought their small specific wars. For example the eastern command of Abwehr I, codename “Walli I”, was eager to keep in close contact with the staffs of the Army and made it difficult for the leaders of the Abwehr to give them orders. Another point was corruption: Many officers and civilians had to manage huge sums of different currencies to pay spies or establish signal posts in neutral countries and in its wake many officers embezzled money. Some – given to foreigners – was later even used to fight against Hitler and the Nazis.

2. The different services of the Wehrmacht all had their own cipher and radiolocation branch. The branch of the OKW was particularly united with the branch of the OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres – High Command of the Army) but was not identical. The cipher and radiolocation branches of the Air Force and Navy even had their own ways for messages and mainly were not interested in other branches.

3. Every German field unit had its own reconnaissance and radiolocation unit. Every Army division (containing of about 13,000 to 18,000 men, commanded by a general and, in theory, should deal with every military purposes on the battlefield and fight without help against the same number of enemies) had its own reconnaissance. The same applied to Air Force and Navy establishments.

4. Aerial photography was only made by the Air Force, because the Commander of this branch,
Herrmann Göring, one of the strongest supporters of Hitler, had established the slogan “Everything that flies belongs to me.” (I have not found a proper citation of this saying, but if it is invented, it is well invented.) In backing of the “Führer” he executed his animosity against Army and Navy even further.

At a personal level, between officers in most field units this proved to be unproblematic, because the flying units were subordinated to a Navy or Army commands. But the lack of planning in the Ministry of Aviation led to a lack of specialized reconnaissance aircraft at the front. The most reconnaissance planes were modified bombers or fighters that in the consequence were missing in the bomber and fighter units: The production of airplanes always ran short. But even in the last days of the Second World War, the reconnaissance planes flew above all fronts and were able to bring back reports. But at the end of War, the German High Command was only able to note the information with no chance of counter attacks.

5. The Foreign Office had its ambassadors who gathered free and half-free information. So did the military attachés. But both were often ignored by the military staffs. Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop established a hidden information service in 1941 for gathering more information in countries neutral or allied to Germany. The head of local spy rings were members of the German mission in that country, the agents mainly from Germany or ethnic Germans. They did not spy in a traditional sense, they mostly gave account on public opinion. The gathered information was in some cases absolutely false, because many were Nazis in heart and simply ignored anti-Nazi sayings and movements. It was not very damaging but also not very helpful; in the end ambassadors mostly ignored it (and hoped the local authorities did as well).

6. Open radio sources were jointly collected by the Foreign Office and the Propaganda Ministry, under Joseph Goebbles, in the so-called “Sonderdienst Seehaus” (Lake House Special Service). Its headquarter was at Berlin’s Wannsee in a former hotel, but in every country with German influence it established outposts. It gathered free broadcast from as many countries as possible, mainly enemy states. The achievement was an impressive one: in 1941 430 military and state recipients were fed with information. But in 1942 Hitler reduced the list of recipients and Goebbels called the whole thing a source of defeatism and reduced the list of recipients again.

7. The Postal Ministry in 1939 established a so-called “Research Institute” to gather wireless radiotelephone conversation from the United Kingdom and the United States. The output was quantitatively okay; the quality of information was not stupendous, because the most people using telephones were ranking in military and politics and had strict orders never to speak about important things on the phone or use code words.

8. The Ministry of Aviation under Herrmann Göring established another “Research Institute”. Officially known as “Forschungsamt” it was founded in 1933, had no direct links to the armed forces and had to collect information from telecommunication. It tapped telephone wires, gathered telegrams and collected wireless communication. A decipher department was established and read many of the diplomatic post. After the outbreak of war, mainly German telephones were tapped, but foreign information was collected whenever possible, too. An attempt to establish a spy network was blasted by the “Gestapo”, the political police of the Third Reich. After that, the collaboration of “Gestapo” and “Forschungsamt” improved and much information from the research institute led to imprisonment, condemnation and execution of Hitler’s enemies. At its heights 6,000 people worked for the “Forschungsamt”, the collected information gave Hitler some important insight, for example during the Czech crisis of 1938. Hitler was informed that the British and French governments would not support Czechoslovakia in war, if the Czech government would not make some concessions. Knowing this gave Hitler a big advantage during negotiations. But after this success, the “Forschungsamt” lost the trust of Hitler, because it delivered mainly bad news for the Nazis. About this point I will talk further below.

9. When the NSDAP became the sole state party in Germany, its secret services gained importance as well. The NSDAP had some foreign outposts, called NSDAP/AO (Auslandsorganisation – Foreign Organisation) that collected information about the countries they were situated in. The information was mainly free source and not impressing like the spy ring of von Ribbentrop. The main effort of the NSDAP/AO was to build a pool for the Abwehr, or other spy rings, before outbreak of World War II. When war broke out in 1939 the NSDAP and its organizations were prohibited in the states at war with Germany, some Germans fled, much were interned or watched by the police. The NSDAP/AO during that time only worked in neutral countries and supplied the “real spy organisations”.

10. The most impressing intelligence organisation outside the Wehrmacht was the “Sicherheitsdienst” or SD (Security Service), a part of the SS. It was built as early as 1931 when the dismissed Navy officer Reinhard Heydrich was introduced to the “Reichsführer SS” Heinrich Himmler as “Nachrichtenoffizier”. Himmler thought, this meant intelligence officer, but in fact Heydrich was a radio operation officer. Nevertheless, Himmler gave Heydrich the opportunity to establish a secret intelligence office inside the SS and the NSDAP to spy upon the German state offices, other German parties, other countries and even some NSDAP organizations and members.



Müller, Nebe, Himmler, Heydrich and Hube, leaders of the RSHA November 8th 1939. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R98680 / CC-BY-SA

Müller, Nebe, Himmler, Heydrich and Huber, leaders of the RSHA November 8th 1939. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R98680 / CC-BY-SA


Heydrich formed the SD into a group of high-quality agents; many of them had a PhD in humanities, economics or jurisprudence. But all were highly fanatic national socialists and anti-Semites, this made their use of sources and messages highly precarious. In foreign countries for example they never paid for information. They made gifts or paid a third person with some information, but their main V-Men (for “Vertrauensmänner” – thrust worthy men) should have always been a Nazi and believing in Hitler and Nazi-Germany. It is therefore understandable they did not gather high-ranking information, even if the country was not under direct German rule. After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 the SD became a semi-state secret service for internal and external information. In 1934 the SD was the only party-organization allowed to spy in- and outside Germany. It was never a state institution like the “Gestapo” (Geheime Staatspolizei – Secret State Police) and even when Heydrich next to holding the chief positions in the SD also took over the security police (SiPo, the united Gestapo and Criminal investigation) the SD stayed a department of the SS, itself a party-organization of the NSDAP.

In 1939 Himmler and Heydrich formed the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA – Reich Security Head Office) consisting of security police and SD for better suppression of enemies of the state, inside and outside the greater German empire. The RSHA was the secret service of a dictatorship state come to completion: politic internal security (Amt IV or Gestapo) and criminal police (Amt V), information gathering inside (Amt III) and outside (Amt VI) Germany or its influence, an ideological branch (Amt VII), personal and organisation (Amt I), administration and finance (Amt II) – all of them were run by the RSHA. The cooperation of police forces (nevertheless mostly party members) and employees of the NSDAP improved due to that, but nonetheless existing differences persisted and were never brought to a conclusion.

Amt VI of the RSHA, mainly a SD-formation, was in charge of gathering information about other states. The first leader was Heinz Jost, dismissed in 1941 because he had been accused of corruption and because his subaltern (some say he himself) had made some grave mistakes in espionage. Jost later led an Einsatzgruppe in the Soviet Union. His successor, Walter Schellenberg, was candidate of choice of both Himmler and Heydrich. The reports he sent were mainly free source, but he and his fellows had some good efforts, which boosted his position inside the Nazi state.


Walter Schellenberg in American captivity, 1945-1949. Source: US-Army/Yad Vashem

Walter Schellenberg in American captivity, 1945-1949. Source: US-Army/Yad Vashem


On the other hand, the Abwehr under Canaris screwed up again and again. In January 1944 Hitler had enough: after Hans Oster, the Abwehr’s chief of staff, and Hans von Dohnany, a lawyer in the Abwehr, were arrested in 1943 for treason – they had helped Jews to flee from Germany – another officer was arrested for treason. The last blow came when the leader of the Abwehr post in Istanbul fled with his wife to the United Kingdom. On 12 February 1944 the outraged Hitler ordered the abolishment of the Abwehr. The order was sound and clear: “1. A unified German espionage service is to be created. 2. I entrust the Reichsführer SS [Himmler] with the Command of this German espionage service. 3. Insofar as the military intelligence and counterintelligence service is hereby affected, the Reichsführer SS and the Chief, OKW [Keitel], will take the necessary measures by mutual agreement.” (Kahn, Hitler’s Spies. S. 269) As always with Hitler’s orders, the execution became messy. Until May 1944 the three branches of the Abwehr were disrupted into front line intelligence, under command of the Wehrmacht, and the Headquarter and strategic intelligence branches as part of the RSHA, but mainly manned with soldiers of the Wehrmacht. But Schellenberg wanted the front line intelligence too and got it in December 1944, when the OKW gave permission, that the front organizations of the former Abwehr, a term, that were completely annihilated, became part of the RSHA as well, but with an Army officer as commander. The struggles between the branches indeed never ended, because the RSHA also had its own front sabotage and spy organizations and wanted, even in May 1945, to amalgamate those with the former Abwehr II branches at the front.

These were the main gatherers of information. The more important question is: What did the German leaders do with this information? For that we must look at the staff and Hitler’s conclusion made on the base of that material. (I will mainly talk of the Army staffs, because the staffs of Navy and Air Force were not nearly as important for Hitler’s decision making as the work of the Army.)

Every German unit had a so-called Ic/AO (Ic/Abwehroffizier – Ic/Defense officer) from the superior division, which got help from soldiers of different ranks or even prisoners of war who collaborated with the Germans, so called “HiWi” (Hilfswillige – willing helpers). It was mainly a younger or a reserve officer who had to collect all the information about the enemies, he could gather. Based on that he should advice the commanding officer (mainly a General) and the chief of staff (an older staff officer or at some points even a General).

At this point the problems started: In a hierarchical system, like all military is, officers need a good reference from his superiors to advance further. In a good working staff all news are good news, in a bad staff only good news will be heard. If the Ic gave an advice nobody wanted to hear, he would never get the so needed good references. If he said, what everybody wanted to hear, but was wrong, he got no good references or was even accused of being a traitor. And it was a full time job: The German staff officers had the obsession to build the most efficient and the smallest staffs in military history. The Ic had to inform himself about the actual German positions, made interrogation of prisoners of war, inspected enemy weapons, coordinated the reconnaissance of division and Abwehr troops, gave advice to the commanding officers, held communication with higher commands twice or thrice a day and should also inform subordinate units. Until spring 1942 the fight against partisans was also job of the Ic; many of them were therefore involved in war crimes.

The main work of intelligence evaluation was made in the different high commands of the German armed forces. Curiously the highest command, neither the OKW (High Command of the Wehrmacht) nor its operating level, the Wehrmachtführungsstab (WFSt – Wehrmacht leading staff), had its own evaluation branch yet the Abwehr as intelligence service was subdued to them. In December 1942 a small staff at the WFSt was established to gather all information of the high commands of Army, Navy and Air Force, to summon them to short fact sheets and add some political and economic information.

The OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres – High Command of the Army), OKM (Oberkommando der Marine – High Command of the Navy) and General staff of the Air Force (a real OKL, Oberkommando der Luftwaffe – High Command of the Air Force, was established in 1944) all had their own sections for evaluation. The Army had its Statistical Division renamed in Foreign Armies 1931 that was in 1938 divided in “Fremde Heere Ost” (FHO – Foreign Armies East) and “Fremde Heere West” (FHW – Foreign Armies West). The assignments of countries in Europe were not really clear but since 1942 the main purpose of FHO was the Soviet Union. These staff sections depended on the information they got from intelligence gatherers and free sources. Especially the staff department Foreign Armies East was important and here the best studies were made. This was on the one side due to its prominence for the German war effort, on the other side it was a result of its commanding officer’s work from 1942 to 1945, who also became important in the cold war era: Reinhard Gehlen.

Gehlen took command of a staff with bad reputation at 1st of April 1942. The Blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union ended in the winter battle before Moscow and everybody blamed Gehlens forerunner Kinzel for this. Gehlen changed everything he blamed for the bad reputation of his department. He built up the department, made close contact to the Abwehr, the Air Force reconnaissance and even the RSHA and other non-military organisations to get as many information as possible. The Ic, in the winter of 1941/42 often used as reserve for officers in the field, was integrated in the FHO and was at least better trained.



Reinhard Gehlen

Reinhard Gehlen 1943 as Wehrmacht Colonel. The Photo is a detail of a picture, showing a group of officers. Source: Bild 183-27237-0001 / CC-BY-SA


Gehlen made this the first link in the evaluation chain to get better information from the front, so in exchange the front got better information from the FHO. It was a puzzle with many wrong parts and the picture was never complete, but at the end of the war Gehlen and his men knew much more about the Red Army then the most Marshals of the Soviet Union did. The reports twice daily to the chief of staff and the prediction of actions of the Red Army gave the German leaders a detailed but devastating picture. At no point of the front, the Germans could resist a major Soviet attack. But Gehlen was not so unbiased as he posed himself, he was an anti-communist, the war against the Soviet Union was in his opinion a necessity and only Hitler´s bumbling warfare was blamed for the disasters. Gehlen’s focus was on the question where the Soviet Red Army might strike next. In his memoirs Gehlen later wrote:


“First, it has to be noted that the military intelligence and development opportunities of the enemy’s situation have always been recognized properly and in advance…”

(Gehlen, Der Dienst. 1971. S. 79. Translation: Lutz Kirchner)


Gehlen’s duty was difficult and the lack of strategic information made it nearly impossible to give long-term prognoses of enemy strikes and their political implications. Even short-term prognoses were highly speculative. In his memoirs Gehlen gave some examples of his war-time intelligence accounts before the encirclement of the 6th Army in Stalingrad to prove his correct foretelling. Magnus Pahl wrote in his dissertation about the Foreign Armies East:


“But his prognosis was not explicit, because the branch only slowly noticed that the Soviets prepared for an attack against Romanian allies, who defended the southern flank of the 6th Army.”

(Pahl: Fremde Heere Ost. S. 207. Translation: Lutz Kirchner)


To Gehlen’s defence: The Soviets efforts against the Romanian troops west of Stalingrad were identified, but the efforts in the south seemed negligible, because the terrain made it impossible for the Germans to supply a big army. But the battle of Stalingrad was mainly lost because Gehlen underestimated the Soviet forces and the leadership of the Soviet generals; nobody believed the Soviets were able to encircle a whole German army. So did the most German officers.

But the central issue of German intelligence and intelligence culture in World War 2 lay in the lack of long term strategic planning and information gathering. Hitler had a crowd of positions he could not fill. He was chancellor and president of Germany, leader of the only allowed state party, commander in chief of the armed forces and commander of the Army since December 1941. His polycratic system made things worse, because every of his paladins wanted to be his darling. Long term planning without fast successes did not bring influence. If one had good news he always ran to Hitler to be first. Even false information was sent unchecked to Hitler. On the other hand negative news were often held back until it was too late or they were entirely ignored. Gehlen for example gave one account after another of the strong Soviet forces and one time after another Hitler told Gehlen, mostly via the chief of staff, that he was a pessimist and that other accounts were much better for Germany than Gehlen’s statements.

Intelligence is a defensive branch in a state, so said David Kahn. Of course, even attackers need information about the enemy, but mostly the invader makes a decision and the defender has to react. In Nazi-Germany, this worked well from 1935 until spring 1941. Hitler despised the western democrats as weak. He was not interested in their opinions because he would defeat them with his military forces. He was absolute indifferent towards the needs of other nations. The acceptance of basic agreements, like the British Prime Minister Chamberlain did in Munich, when he agreed to divide the territories of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia to prevent a war, was not an option for Hitler. In his opinion his foreign intelligence was responsible for giving him information about troops and factories in other countries, not political statements and long-term prognoses.

The lack of information about the Soviet Union – the military strength in 1941 was even less than the industrial power or the political system – was correctable with short-term intelligence. (For example, the “Commissar-Order” told every German Commander to kill the political commissars of the Red Army, but nobody knew what uniform they had and even, that the rank of commissar was abolished in 1940!)

Even information about British and American power was not untraceable. That neither the Soviet or American industrial power nor the Allies short-term military plans were uncovered shows the main problem. The strategic problems of the Third Reich was that its only allies were small states in Europe and the Japanese Empire on the other side of the world and by no means in the 1940s an economic power. This should be solved with tactical and operational military efforts. This worked 1940 against a stronger Anglo-French force, but not 1944 against the much stronger Anglo-American-French-Soviet Armies.

The whole world was at war with Germany, and nobody knew the plans of the Allied leaders. Hitler solved the problem by believing in his genius, the most generals and Nazi-leaders made the same. Others believed not in him, but in German superiority, be it racial, intellectual or in ways of military success.

Intelligence needs many sources, even conferences of the different finders and evaluators had solved many problems. But in Germany, Hitler said in his basic order from the 11th of January 1940: “1. Nobody, no office, no officer, should know from a secret matter, if they not unconditionally need it for their post. 2. No office and no officer should know from a secret matter more, than they [spacing in original document] need to know for their tasks.” (Moll: Führererlasse, S. 108, Translated by Lutz Kirchner)

So the “information pool” was never deep since no one looked further than where the enemy forces were currently situated and how much shooting power they held. To make things worse: every part of the service made its own flat puddle to live in. And most leaders of the Third Reich simply lacked a sense of reality. Mistrust among each other did the rest.

Lutz Kirchner




Kahn, David: Hitler´s spies. German Military Intelligence In World War II. New York 1978.

Pahl, Magnus: Fremde Heere Ost. Hitlers militärische Feindaufklärung. Berlin 2011.

Gehlen, Reinhard: Der Dienst. Erinnerungen 1942 – 1971. Mainz u.a. 1971.



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