Flying 1700KM twice a week has some perks, including giving me the opportunity to do lots of reading; something that has been lacking in my life this summer. There are so many things I want to write about, so I’m going to try to write a little more often now that I have a laptop in my hotel with me.
The book I’m reading right now is written by F.W. Winterbotham. Winterbotham led quite a fascinating life. He flew as a pilot in WWI before being shot down by the Germans whom he spent 18 months with as a POW, learning to speak German to pass the time.
At the end of 1929 he landed a job with the British Secret Service (BSS), representing the Royal Air Force. His job was to “find out from secret sources what foreign air forces were up to”. So there it began, his life as a secret agent. In 1933, while “Nazi euphoria” had prevented him from contacting his secret contacts in Germany, he decided to go against normal BSS protocol and traveled to Germany to find out more about what the Nazis were up to.
In Germany he posed as a British Nazi sympathizer and by 1934 he obtained personal contact with Hitler himself, Alfred Rosenberg, Rudolph Hess, Erich Koch, and some other senior officers in the army and Air Force on the premise that Germany wanted Britain to stay neutral and not interfere with Germany’s wars of expansion. Despite his warnings to the British government about the Nazi rearmament and war plans, most leaders in Britain chose to ignore the threat as if it didn’t exist.
In 1932, the Polish had managed to crack the German Enigma Cipher. The knowledge was passed to the British just before the war began in 1939. Winterbotham was responsible for the group of men and women who worked to decode the messages being passed by Hitler to his field commanders. Codenamed “Ultra”, this proved to be probably one of the most significant contributions to the victory of the allies. The British were informed of the Germans’ plan of attack even before it happened, giving them a powerful advantage in the war.
I quote Winterbotham from the book:
“Even when, after Almein, the pendulum at last began to swing our way a little, the advance knowledge of the enemy’s movements, strength and likely behaviour gained through Ultra still did not enable us to achieve any quick results: we just did not have the men, machines and resources. Let no one be fooled by the spate of television films and propaganda which has made the war seem like some great triumphant epic. It was, in fact, a very narrow shave, and the reader may like to ponder, whilst reading this book, whether or not we might have won had we not had Ultra.”
One must wonder what would have been the outcome, had Britain not had knowledge of Germany’s plan of attack. Winterbotham speculates that Germany may have won the 1940 “Battle of Britain” which probably would have enabled Germany to invade and occupy Britain, freeing up the German Army to fight the ultimate battle against Russia.
If this topic interests you, check out Winterbotham’s book. Keep in mind that information about Ultra was kept secret after the war and it wasn’t until 1974 that the official ban on references to Ultra were lifted and this book was subsequently released.