A British Intelligence Malfunction.

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Steve
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A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Steve » 17 Feb 2021 17:11

In July 1941 convoy WS9c was ambushed by the Italians as it tried to reach Malta. The cruiser Fearless was sunk while the cruiser Manchester and destroyer Firedrake were badly damaged. At Churchill’s behest an inquiry was launched to see who was responsible for leaks. The inquiry found that “an unbelievably stupid message“ using insecure commercial codes had been sent by the manager of the NAAFI in Malta spelling out what supplies he needed. Also, 120 private firms in Britain had received instructions by letter giving them the destination and code number for orders sent to the docks.

Churchill’s personnel assistant Major Morton wanted a convoy supremo appointed but the Ministry of War transport refused to take orders from a naval officer. In November 1941 Morton complained that the director of naval intelligence Rear Admiral Godfrey and other met “to consider what committee might be appointed to appoint a committee. I consider this a wholly intolerable state of affairs”. He likened Rear Admiral Godfrey to Dr Strabismus of Utrecht the inventor of crackpot schemes in the Daily Express newspaper.

Taken from an article by Peter Day in the BBC History magazine Vol 9, no 8

Godfrey was replaced in 1942 and went on to command the Royal Indian Navy. He was commanding it when in 1946 its sailors and shore workers staged a revolt. A link to this little known incident is given at the bottom.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Indian_Navy_mutiny

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Knouterer » 17 Feb 2021 17:44

None of that sounds very serious or credible. That convoy operation was a success, certainly compared with other attempts to supply Malta which suffered far heavier attacks and losses, so why would anyone suppose there had been any kind of leak?

And what's that stuff about a NAAFI manager? How would he know when a convoy was coming? Or are we supposed to believe that a convoy was promptly organized to fulfill his requests? How would such a lowly functionary even get permission to send a radio message from Malta?
Sounds like another failure by the BBC to get the facts straight about WWII.

To quote the official history (The War at Sea, Vol. I, p. 523):

"The complete success of the operation exceeded the most sanguine hopes. Losses were bound to be suffered on so hazardous an enterprise, but only one destroyer (Fearless - K) was actually sunk, while almost all the stores destined for Malta, and all the reinforcements, except those left behind in the Leinster, had been safely delivered. The plan was cleverly designed and brilliantly executed. All the deceptive and diversionary measures were successful and, although the enemy certainly knew that a big movement was in train, he was kept guessing regarding our precise intentions until it was too late to intervene decisively."

Vice-admiral Godfrey, by the way, was a bit of a controversial figure but he had his admirers too, and he managed to stay in his post as Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI) for nearly four years, until the end of 1942, which may count as an achievement considering all the setbacks Britain and the Royal Navy suffered in those years.
"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Knouterer » 17 Feb 2021 18:36

In that context, popular historians - and what the BBC is doing can count as popular history, I think - often make the mistake, with regard to World War Two, of simply accepting as hard fact whatever they are told by people who "were there", without considering that their memory may be at fault, that they may have been misinformed at the time, that they were probably not aware of the bigger picture, or that they may be unable to resist the temptation to embellish their own role or to "get even" with people they disagreed with at the time.

Or to put it another way, sometimes old soldiers' tales are just that.
"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by DrG » 18 Feb 2021 01:51

I have never read an Italian book or article reporting a story similar to the one told by BBC History. Italian agents spying on Gibraltar had informed the Italian command of an imminent British operation on 18 July 1941, but nothing more is told about a role played intelligence in its contrast by Italian forces.

The British Official History provides quite an optimistic account of operation Substance. The merchantman Sydney Star was damaged by the MAS 532 and 533 and the Norwegian tanker Höeg Hood was damaged by a torpedo launched by a SIAI-Marchetti S.79 Sparviero. Two merchant ships damaged out of seven, escorted by two battleships, one aircraft carrier, six cruisers and about 20 destroyers.
As already recalled by Steve, the destroyer Fearless was sunk by an S.79 torpedo-bomber, the heavy cruiser Manchester was badly damaged by another S.79 torpedo-bomber, and the destroyer Firedrake was damaged by other Italian aircrafts. Moreover, the hull of the battleship Renown was damaged by bombs dropped by S.79 bombers and expolded underwater.

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 18 Feb 2021 12:20

Hi Guys,

As pointed out above, HMS Fearless was a destroyer, not a cruiser.

Something appears to have got lost in translation.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Steve » 18 Feb 2021 16:03

Gentlemen if you check the site below which a quick search brought up you will see that on July 23 1941 the Fearless was torpedoed and sunk, the Manchester was badly damaged by torpedo attack while the Firedrake was badly damaged by a bomb and had to be towed. At the time the ships were escorting convoy WS9c.

https://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chron ... edrake.htm

The investigation about what had happened never said the Italians acquired information from the manager of the NAAFI or the letters sent to firms in the UK. It found that they could have acquired information this way because British security in the matter of convoy WS9c was terrible. It would be rather odd if no one enquired of the NAAFI manager in besieged Malta what supplies he had in hand and what supplies he needed. It would be rather odd if a message was not sent from Malta regarding the supply situation and what to send. If for example the NAAFI manager said that the tea situation was desperate the Italians would know that a resupply convoy would shortly be on its way.

The article in the BBC magazine did not rely on hearsay it was based on released cabinet office documents.

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 18 Feb 2021 18:45

Hi Guys,

The NAAFI certainly seems to have had a significant presence on Malta; "Naafi on the island increased the number of canteens and shops from 17 in 1939 when war broke out, to 80 by 1942....."

Sid

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Andy H » 18 Feb 2021 21:10

Steve wrote:
18 Feb 2021 16:03
The article in the BBC magazine did not rely on hearsay it was based on released cabinet office documents.
Hi Steve

Have you the CAB Ref number please?

I've never read anything about this convoy being in part due to an Intelligence failure.

Regards

Andy H

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Ружичасти Слон » 18 Feb 2021 23:11

Andy H wrote:
18 Feb 2021 21:10
Steve wrote:
18 Feb 2021 16:03
The article in the BBC magazine did not rely on hearsay it was based on released cabinet office documents.
Hi Steve

Have you the CAB Ref number please?

I've never read anything about this convoy being in part due to an Intelligence failure.

Regards

Andy H
I was find on 3 second search

https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov. ... /r/C629548

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Steve
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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Steve » 19 Feb 2021 01:23

Thanks for that P. Churchill thought there were leaks “The Prime Minister demanded to know who was responsible for leaks which led to the Italian navy ambushing convoy WS9c in July 1941 as it attempted to reach Malta”. Just because Churchill thought there was a leak to the Italians about a Malta convoy does not mean the Italians found out about the convoy from a British leak. From what DrG has posted about convoy WS9c losses the British played down what happened perhaps because they considered this an Italian success. If the Italians knew about the convoy quite likely it was as DrG says because they were watching Gibraltar.

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 20 Feb 2021 02:46

This searching for leaks reminds me of German Admirals Raeder & Donitz thinking the unexpected submarine losses and dodging convoys were from leaks picked up by the French underground. The Italian radio signals analysts were as good as anyones & their tracking of Brit radio transmissions gave them some clues about when convoys might be run. Through 1941 Many Brit leaders were as lax about signals security as the worst of the Germans or Yanks. I'm unsure what happened, but there was a broad and effective tightening of signals security in 1942.
Steve wrote:
19 Feb 2021 01:23
... If the Italians knew about the convoy quite likely it was as DrG says because they were watching Gibraltar.
Both Axis partners were watching that area closely. Some one remarked there were so many agents watching the Strait bleachers were installed along the coast. The Italians also flew air reconnaissance in that direction and had submarines patrolling east and west of the Strait and often as practical.

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Andy H » 20 Feb 2021 16:15

Steve wrote:
19 Feb 2021 01:23
Thanks for that P. Churchill thought there were leaks “The Prime Minister demanded to know who was responsible for leaks which led to the Italian navy ambushing convoy WS9c in July 1941 as it attempted to reach Malta”. Just because Churchill thought there was a leak to the Italians about a Malta convoy does not mean the Italians found out about the convoy from a British leak. From what DrG has posted about convoy WS9c losses the British played down what happened perhaps because they considered this an Italian success. If the Italians knew about the convoy quite likely it was as DrG says because they were watching Gibraltar.
Hi Steve

Is there a possibility that the British let the convoy proceed knowing full well that its security might have been compromised, so as not to let the Italians know that they could read some of their codes or signal traffic?

I ask because there are examples of such actions being taken in the Atlantic and Med during the war.

Regards

Andy H

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Sid Guttridge » 20 Feb 2021 16:52

Hi Andy H,

Have you a few examples?

In the UK it was long put about that Churchill was warned in advance about the Coventry air raid, but chose not to warn Coventry in order to protect his intelligence sources. However, we now know this was not the case, so I am inclined to question such stories.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Andy H » 20 Feb 2021 17:38

Sid Guttridge wrote:
20 Feb 2021 16:52
Hi Andy H,

Have you a few examples?

In the UK it was long put about that Churchill was warned in advance about the Coventry air raid, but chose not to warn Coventry in order to protect his intelligence sources. However, we now know this was not the case, so I am inclined to question such stories.

Cheers,

Sid.
Hi Sid

Not to hand, Id have to go looking for them.
There are equally numerous accounts of the British not acting on Italian code breakthroughs, unless they could conspire a decent reason that wouldn't point the Italians into checking on their code security. Thus several Italian convoys to NA arrived safely because the British decided not to ambush them.

The Coventry one is one I've heard but never put any store by it, given the limited gains versus the potential negatives going forward in terms of intelligence.

Regards

Andy H

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Re: A British Intelligence Malfunction.

Post by Urmel » 21 Feb 2021 00:12

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
20 Feb 2021 02:46
This searching for leaks reminds me of German Admirals Raeder & Donitz thinking the unexpected submarine losses and dodging convoys were from leaks picked up by the French underground.
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