Enigma machine captured

Also the coding machine was found here, plugged in and as though it was in actual use when abandoned. The general appearance of this machine being that of a type writer, the telegraphist pressed the keys and finding results peculiar sent it up the hatch. This W/T office seemed far less complicated than our own-sets were more compact and did not seem to have the usual excess of switches, plug holes, knobs, ‘tally’s’ etc on the outside.

The boarding party led by David Balme approaches U-110

One of the outstanding intelligence break-throughs of the war came on 9th May with the capture of an intact Enigma machine, the German encoding device that they believed to be impossible to break. The British had assembled a team of brilliant academics at Bletchley Park who were making steady progress with the task of deciphering German messages encoded with ‘Enigma’ machines. They already possessed one Enigma machine, passed on by Polish Intelligence before the war. What was needed were the internal rotors in the machines that were currently being used. A [permalink id=7787 text=”number of schemes had been devised”] to capture these but the boarding of U-110 came as an unexpected bonus.

The U-boat had been forced to surface after depth charging, the crew had abandoned ship believing that the U-boat was already sinking. The surviving crew were rescued and quickly taken below decks so that they would not be aware that the boat was to be boarded. The commander of the boat Lemp died, possibly shot as he attempted to swim back to the boat to sink her.

The Captain of HMS Bulldog reported:

H.M.S. Bulldog stopped within 100 yards of the submarine and sent away an armed whaler’s crew. No sign of a white flag was seen and two men appeared to be manning the submarine’s forward gun. Fire was again opened by Lewis gun and two or three men were hit. My object was to keep the crew rattled. They already appeared dazed and uncertain what to do. By the time the whaler was alongside the submarine, the whole crew appeared to have jumped into the water. There was a moderate sea running and waves were breaking over the U. boat’s deck. The officer in charge of the whaler, appreciating the necessity of speed, ran his boat hard on board the submarine and a wave carried it on to the deck where it was smashed. The crew found that the conning tower hatch was closed. They opened it and went below without delay. ( Their orders were to seize all books and anything that looked important). Shortly afterwards they signaled that the U. boat had been abandoned, and appeared to be sound and in no danger of sinking.

Sub-Lieutenant David Balme reported how he boarded U-110:

At 1245 9th May, I left [HMS] Bulldog in charge of a boarding party to board an enemy submarine which had surfaced. The crew consisted of 6 seamen, 1 telegraphist and 1 stoker. “Bulldog” was lying to windward of U boat and there was a heavy swell running so to save valuable time I made for the weather side (Port).

There were numerous holes in the Conning Tower casing caused by “Bulldog’s” 3″ and Pom-pom. As no small arm fire was opened up at the whaler from the U boat, I was fairly confident that there was no one in the Conning Tower. This proved correct after having entered conning tower through opening on starboard side. The hatch down was closed tight. (This hatch was 18″ to 24″ in diameter, spherical surface with wheel for screwing down; on unscrewing this the hatch sprung open as soon as a clip was released).

I went down the ladder to the lower Conning Tower where there was a similar closed hatch. On opening this hatch I found the Control Room deserted! hatches leading forward and aft were open and all lighting on. On the deck there was a large splinter from the conning tower. There was a slight escape of air in the control room but no sign of Chlorine so gas-masks which had been taken were now discarded. So also were revolvers which now seemed more of a danger than an asset.

The U-boat had obviously been abandoned in great haste as books and gear were strewn about the place. A chain of men was formed to pass up all books charts etc. As speed was essential owing to possibility of U boat sinking (although dry throughout) I gave orders to send up ALL books, except obviously reading books, so consequently a number of comparatively useless navigational books etc were recovered.

All charts were in drawers under the chart table in the Control Room; there were also some signal books, log books etc here. The metal sheet diagrams were secured overhead. Meanwhile the telegraphist went to the W/T office, just forward of the control room on starboard side. This was in perfect condition, apparently no attempt having been made to destroy any books or apparatus. Here were found C.B’s., Signal Logs, Pay Books, and general correspondence, looking as if this room had been used as ship’s office.

Also the coding machine was found here, plugged in and as though it was in actual use when abandoned. The general appearance of this machine being that of a type writer, the telegraphist pressed the keys and finding results peculiar sent it up the hatch. This W/T office seemed far less complicated than our own-sets were more compact and did not seem to have the usual excess of switches, plug holes, knobs, ‘tally’s’ etc on the outside.

An attempt was made to take U-110 under tow for the 400 mile trip back to the nearest base on Iceland but she sank the next day.

The original British reports are available online at U Boat Archive.

The Wireless Telegraph area on board U Boat U-124 in March 1941, where the Enigma machine, similar to a typewriter, can be seen bottom left.

The Italians retreat in East Africa

We are awakened by the sound of rifle fire from the rebels [local tribes- men supporting the British] and we can see them advancing hidden from sight of those on the crest of the road. Then rifle fire is opened up by our soldiers, all belonging to different units, who are without control and without orders. The officers, as usual, are all sheltering in the grottos, unaware of their responsibility at the present time …

British forces advancing across the plains of Africa, Abyssinia 1941.

In East Africa the Italians who had occupied Abyssinia were now falling back in disarray as British forces advanced on several fronts. A diary captured from an Italian Air Force pilot was translated by military intelligence, providing an insight into his view of Italian army officers:

8 May

By now we realise that we are surrounded, and at dusk we withdraw to the road where there are some vehicles ready to take us further up ALAGI hill.

At midnight a D.R. [despatch rider] arrives with the order that the men belonging to S. & T. should go up together with our own men. These men number about 200 and 30 of us. We arrive at the bake-house and then make our way to an arch under the road, waiting for daylight.

We are awakened by the sound of rifle fire from the rebels [local tribesmen supporting the British] and we can see them advancing hidden from sight of those on the crest of the road.

We have barely time to jump into a car and dash to the bake-house to report to the officers who are sheltering underground. Two M.Gs [machine-guns] are placed in position under a curve in the road which dominates the whole valley beneath.

Then rifle fire is opened up by our soldiers, all belonging to different units, who are without control and without orders. The officers, as usual, are all sheltering in the grottos, unaware of their responsibility at the present time …

Ambulance duty during the Hull Blitz

When the road was cleared we took the dead, each with a printed form attached to them, saying where they were found, to Alber Ave Mortuary. The injured, who had been given morphine, and the letter ‘M’ marked on their foreheads to say so, we took to the Western General Hospital on Anlaby Road, and laid them on the floor on their stretchers.

The search for survivors after one of the numerous raids on Hull.

The north eastern port of Hull was a frequent target for air raids but suffered one of its worst attacks on the night of the 7th May. Over 300 explosive bombs fell whilst incendiary bombs started around 800 fires. R. Peat wrote a diary of his experiences during the blitz, first as a Boy Scout cycle messenger, then as an assistant at a First Aid post:

The sirens sounded and although I went straight to the First Aid Post the sky was red with fires before I arrived. My name was put on the blackboard to go out with the first ambulance. We could see we were in for a terrible night. The first call came for us to go near the side of the Riverside Quay. On leaving the Post I was told there would be no fire engines available.

I set off at great speed and was joined by my Divisional Officer. As we neared the docks we could hear a bomb getting nearer and nearer but neither of us wanted to be the first to lay down but the decision was made for us by the bomb. The dock was blazing from end to end and we found a public shelter had been hit.

Police Constable No. 902 hung his oil lamp on a tree and took our names. We were told to wear our goggles. The full length of the street was blazing. The ambulances became blocked in the street so it was decided to remove casualties to another public shelter nearby.

On one journey the street was covered in fire bombs and I flung myself in the shelter doorway and others doing so lay on top of me. Looking up I saw for the first time some children on bunks round the side of the walls although they must have known the people we laid on the floor of the shelter they hadn’t made a sound … We were so jammed in the entrance to the shelter the policeman blew his whistle for others to help us. I was then given a message to take to control asking for more rescue parties.

When the road was cleared we took the dead, each with a printed form attached to them, saying where they were found, to Alber Ave Mortuary. The injured, who had been given morphine, and the letter ‘M’ marked on their foreheads to say so, we took to the Western General Hospital on Anlaby Road, and laid them on the floor on their stretchers. They would be seen by a doctor if a bed became available, would be washed, but most were eventually transported by buses fitted out with beds to Driffield or Beverley Base Hospitals…

Heroes of Hull has more details of this raid.

Germany prepares for war in the east

In the city since early morning there has been a general panic. Germans are stopping all men, Aryans and Jews, and are sending them for labor at the airfields. During all of this beatings are a normal part of German conduct. From the window I observed them. With special satisfaction the Germans beat people who were well dressed and looked like white collar workers.

Men in a forced labour gang from the ghetto working outside Warsaw, May 1941.

In Nazi occupied eastern Poland it was an open secret that preparations were being made for war. Hitler was to personally re-assure Stalin that he was moving troops there to keep them away from British bombers. But airfields were also being built, ready to receive the air fleets that would soon be diverted away from the attack on Britain. Zygmunt Klukowski was a Polish doctor whose diary records life under the occupation:

May 6

In the city since early morning there has been a general panic. Germans are stopping all men, Aryans and Jews, and are sending them for labor at the airfields. During all of this beatings are a normal part of German conduct. From the window I observed them. With special satisfaction the Germans beat people who were well dressed and looked like white collar workers.

All workers are under constant surveillance. One soldier with a rifle looks after ten workers. The work now starts at 6 a.m. and ends at dusk. The hardest work is in the flooded areas where the workers stand knee-deep in water. Some people who signed in as sick were examined by a young German physician. Only a few were dismissed.

Now the Germans have organized a civil defense. Dr. Likowski was put in charge. Today the commandant of gendarmerie stopped by to inspect the hospital cellars. He told me that he is requesting the installation of electrical power and telephones in the cellars, for use in case of air raids. Everyone talks openly about the upcoming war.

See Klukowski: Diary from the Years of Occupation

Hitler inspects the Bismarck

He considered it an advantage that in the Bismaick, which was more powerful than the Scharnhorst class, he would no longer be forced to avoid well protected convoys. This, however, did not solve his most difficult problem: getting his force out into the Atlantic without being spotted by the enemy.

Hitler on an inspection tour of the Bismarck, 5th May 1941, with Captain Lindemann on his right and Admiral Lutjens behind.

The latest German battleship, the Bismarck, commissioned in August 1940, had completed her sea trials and was now ready for her first operational voyage. On the 5th May 1941 Hitler visited the ship and discussed the plans for a raid against convoys in the Atlantic. Burkhard Von Mullenheim-Rechberg, was a gunnery officer on board the Bismarck:

Hitler, looking somewhat pale, and Keitel, followed by Lutjens and Lindemann, reviewed the crew. The party then inspected some of the ship’s equipment, which gave the responsible officers a chance to brief the “Fuhrer” in their own areas.

Hitler remained for an especially long time in the after gunnery computer space, where an extremely capable gunfire-plotting officer, Oberleutnant zur See Friedrich Cardinal, explained how the various intricate looking devices controlled gunfire. Keitel as well as Hitler seemed to be much impressed by Cardinal’s presentation, but neither asked any questions.

After touring the ship, Hitler, Lutjens, and a small group adjourned to the admiral’s quarters. There, Lutjens told of his experiences in action against British commerce in the Atlantic with the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, expressed optimism about an operation of this type with the Bismarck, and explained his immediate intentions.

He considered it an advantage that in the Bismarck, which was more powerful than the Scharnhorst class, he would no longer be forced to avoid well protected convoys. This, however, did not solve his most difficult problem: getting his force out into the Atlantic without being spotted by the enemy.

When Hitler suggested that, apart from anything else, the numerical superiority of the British fleet presented a great risk, Lutjens pointed to the Bismarck’s superiority over any single British capital ship. Her hitting and staying power were so great that he had no apprehension on that score. After a pause, he added that breaking out to the high seas would not by any means be the end of our worries. Quite clearly, torpedo planes from British aircraft carriers were a great danger that he would have to reckon with all the time he was in the Atlantic.

See The Battleship “Bismarck”: A Survivor’s Story

Starvation on Warsaw’s streets

There was scarcely a night when you didn’t hear the groans of people dying on the street. The typhus spread. Doctors made superhuman efforts to control the disease: daily rounds of assigned buildings, lectures maintaining hygiene, attempts to obtain soap rations and disinfectants, and long hard hours in the hospital. But the epidemic grew, owing to the conditions inside the ghetto.

Starvation meant that the dead and dying were a common sight on the streets of the ghetto by May 1941.

Hunger grew increasingly severe. More and more patients complained to their doctors of swelling due to hunger, and more and more corpses lay on the ghetto streets. Pale, emaciated children with huge, horribly hungry eyes sobbed and moaned and asked for bread. Living skeletons covered in rags became an increasingly common sight.

There was scarcely a night when you didn’t hear the groans of people dying on the street. The typhus spread. Doctors made superhuman efforts to control the disease: daily rounds of assigned buildings, lectures maintaining hygiene, attempts to obtain soap rations and disinfectants, and long hard hours in the hospital. But the epidemic grew, owing to the conditions inside the ghetto.

Hundreds of dirty, starving Jews who had been declared unfit for work in the labor camps were relocated in Warsaw, and even more people were resettled from the provinces. Typhus decimated the population – in private homes, public shelters, children’s boardinghouses, and in the punkty.

From the anonymous diary of a woman living in the ghetto in 1941, collected in Words to Outlive Us: Eyewitness Accounts from the Warsaw Ghetto

 

Liverpool’s ‘May Blitz’

A lot of children were evacuated to the countryside, but my mother would not let me go and decided to move back to Nelson. She went working in the mill weaving. She would work there from early morning until teatime, then rush home and after tea go back to work on munitions until 10 pm.

The devastation in Liverpool docks after the ammunition ship 'Malakand' blew up after catching fire on the night of 3rd May 1941.

Merseyside and Liverpool were bombed every night of the first week of May with over 1750 people being killed. The worst single night was the 3rd/4th when an estimated 850 people were killed. The ammunition ship Malakand, being loaded with 1,000 tons of munitions caught the flames from nearby burning warehouses. Desperate attempts were made to control the fire but she blew up hours after the ‘All Clear’ was sounded on the 4th, killing four fire fighters. The fire continued for another 72 hours.

Ena Barker was nine years old when she lived through the Liverpool Blitz:

I remember going to school each morning carrying my gas mask on my back at all times, in case the Germans dropped gas onto us. We had to get home early and have our tea, as the sirens would sound most nights around 6 o’clock, then planes would come. We would go down into the cellar or under the stairs; we even went under the table sometimes. Mother didn’t like going into the air raid shelter as she always said she had a bad feeling about them.

One morning I went to school and when I got there it was just a pile of rubble. You never knew just what you would find after a raid, sometimes there were no houses left, just piles of stones and rubbish.

Our school was bombed and I remember we were not allowed to go home; we had to sit in what had been the school yard with our pencils and paper, until we were found another school to go to.

We had to keep moving houses as we kept getting bombed. I remember one night Lewis’s store being hit and watching from the door of our house as firemen climbed up long ladders trying to put out the enormous flames. One night we had a lucky escape when a shelter near us was bombed and everyone inside it was killed.

Each night in Liverpool the searchlights would light up the sky searching for the German bombers. There were silver coloured barrage balloons in front of King George’s Hall, huge on the ground, but when they let the ropes go and they went up into the sky they looked very small.

A lot of children were evacuated to the countryside, but my mother would not let me go and decided to move back to Nelson. She went working in the mill weaving. She would work there from early morning until teatime, then rush home and after tea go back to work on munitions until 10 pm.

BBC People’s war

For many more pictures see Liverpool Blitz 70

Merseyside.

The cumulative effect of seven successive nights’ bombing has not been fully assessed, but it is known that extensive damage has been done to docks, railways, all utility services, and to private property.

Heavy salvage operations are entailed by ships sunk in the docks, and in some cases dock gates are unusable owing to lack of electric power.

The railway system to the docks was badly affected by actual damage and by unexploded bombs, and sections of the Dockyard Overhead Railways were destroyed. Many roads near the docks were blocked by craters or debris and in Bootle two important bridges were smashed.

Considerable damage by fire was done to dockyard buildings and the offices of the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board were destroyed.

From the Home Security Situation Report for the week see TNA CAB 66/16/23

American Lease And Lend food being eaten in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, Uk, 1941 Three children eat American cheese sandwiches at an emergency feeding centre in Liverpool. Behind them, a man can be seen cooking at a Soyer boiler or field cooker.
American Lease And Lend food being eaten in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, Uk, 1941
Three children eat American cheese sandwiches at an emergency feeding centre in Liverpool. Behind them, a man can be seen cooking at a Soyer boiler or field cooker.
The Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, making a speech (in warehouse setting) to merchant ships' crews and dockers at Liverpool, in which he thanked his listeners for their part in helping win the Battle of the Atlantic. One of the Prime Minister's public engagements during his visit to Manchester and Merseyside between 25 and 26 April 1941.
The Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, making a speech (in warehouse setting) to merchant ships’ crews and dockers at Liverpool, in which he thanked his listeners for their part in helping win the Battle of the Atlantic. One of the Prime Minister’s public engagements during his visit to Manchester and Merseyside between 25 and 26 April 1941.
Mrs Cripps, daughter-in-law of Mr Leonard Cripps, serves American baked ham to feed dockyard workers in a marquee being used as an emergency feeding centre on the outskirts of Liverpool.
Mrs Cripps, daughter-in-law of Mr Leonard Cripps, serves American baked ham to feed dockyard workers in a marquee being used as an emergency feeding centre on the outskirts of Liverpool.
A demolition worker in Liverpool sucks a raw American egg as he rests on a wheelbarrow next to a smouldering fire.
A demolition worker in Liverpool sucks a raw American egg as he rests on a wheelbarrow next to a smouldering fire.
Vertical aerial view from 1,800 feet of the waterfront from the Pier Head to the Albert Dock, and of the city east to Derby Square, showing the extensive bomb damage to the commercial centre. The shell of the burnt out customs shed is visible left centre.
Vertical aerial view from 1,800 feet of the waterfront from the Pier Head to the Albert Dock, and of the city east to Derby Square, showing the extensive bomb damage to the commercial centre. The shell of the burnt out customs shed is visible left centre.

War breaks out in Iraq

On the 2nd May, at 0200 hours, the Royal Air Force Cantonment at Habbaniya was invested by Iraqi troops and hostilities broke out. The aerodrome and emergency landing ground were shelled, and 22 out of 29 serviceable aircraft were damaged. Our casualties were over 40, including four pilots andi two observers. Iraqi aircraft unsuccessfully bombed and machine-gunned the camp.

RAF Fordson Armoured Cars in Iraq, May 1941

Following Iraqi independence in 1932 Britain enjoyed good relations with the Hashemite monarchy. Under the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty Britain maintained substantial RAF bases in the country. These were staging posts on the route to India but also provided some security to British petroleum interests in the country.

A coup d’etat at the beginning of April brought the anti-British Rashid Ali to power. There were very few troops available in the region that might bolster the RAF, although arrangements were made to bring in re-inforcements from India. When Rashid Ali’s forces attacked the RAF base at Habbaniya there was only a small force of RAF armoured cars available for land operations:

Iraq

On the 2nd May, at 0200 hours, the Royal Air Force Cantonment at Habbaniya was invested by Iraqi troops and hostilities broke out. The aerodrome and emergency landing ground were shelled, and 22 out of 29 serviceable aircraft were damaged. Our casualties were over 40, including four pilots andi two observers. Iraqi aircraft unsuccessfully bombed and machine-gunned the camp.

On the same day, all available aircraft attacked the investing forces, and No. 4 Flying Training School carried out 400 sorties on this and the three subsequent days, dropping approximately thirty tons of bombs. Aided by extra guns, the enemy shelling continued desultorily during this period, but without making it impossible for aircraft to use the landing-grounds, although a further number were destroyed and damaged on the ground. Wellingtons from Shaibah bombed enemy troops and positions and attacked their aircraft at Raschid aerodrome.

Blenheims did valuable reconnaissance of the pipe-line around Rutbah, where a large oil fire was observed, and also of the towns of Mosul, Kirkuk, Baghdad and Sulman Pak. On the 6th May, reconnaissance showed that the enemy positions near Habbaniya had been abandoned.

During the operations, the greater part of the Iraqi Air Force was put out of action. We lost seven aircraft in the air and seven on the ground. It is probable that the Iraqis expected air assistance from the Germans. Pilots returning to Habbaniya from Hit during the night of the 5th/6th May reported that fires were lighted at their approach and all along their route. Others were lighted round Habbaniya which had the appearance of guiding marks. An Arab questioned at Hit thought that our aircraft were German.

From the Air Situation Report for the week see TNA CAB 66/16/23

Tobruk defences tested

Shells exploding close at hand included the angry buzzing of shrapnel fragments. The mind can hardly grasp the amount of ‘lead’ that has been scattered over the desert by exploding shrapnel; the surface of the ground is positively carpeted with jagged, ugly, twisted fragments; sometimes eight inches long. It says a lot for defensive methods that any troops survive.

A German Panzer III tank on the move in the desert, April - May 1941

Geoffrey Nowland was with the Australian 9th Division, under siege in Tobruk:

1st May 1941

Last night four of us and a corporal spent a night of Hell. Three hundred yards into No-Man’s-Land on a ‘listening post’, we crouched in our shallow rock shelter while Gerry sent tons of high explosive shells from tanks and guns, over our heads at the artillery behind our post. Sometimes a few would land near us. During the night we hastily retreated in the face of machine gun fire but we went out again after a stiff swig of rum.

Every second night I am among the four who go out a few hundred yards to spend the night at a ‘listening post’. Invariably Gerry keeps us both awake all night. Our role is deliberately negative; we are not encouraged to fire back at the enemy because this would give our positions away. We are pelted with all manner of shells and high velocity anti-tank bullets. Concrete dug-outs give us some measure of protection.

Most of the projectiles whistle over our heads and the explosions are ear splitting, echoing off the rocks and wire entanglements. Occasionally a few fall short uncomfortably near us and Gerry is fond of using an anti-aircraft gun to spray the ground with shrapnel, directing the shell not skywards but just above the ground.

Last night in the clear air with a slight breeze, the commands of Gerry’s gun crews were clearly audible. I could hear the officer’s directions and then louder the command to fire, which was almost simultaneously followed by the muzzle flash and later the report, whistling shell and flash and detonation of the striking projectile.

Shells exploding close at hand included the angry buzzing of shrapnel fragments. The mind can hardly grasp the amount of ‘lead’ that has been scattered over the desert by exploding shrapnel; the surface of the ground is positively carpeted with jagged, ugly, twisted fragments; sometimes eight inches long. It says a lot for defensive methods that any troops survive.

See Kenneth Rankin, Editor Lest We Forget : Fifty Years On

Tobruk.

On the night of the 30th April / 1st May the enemy attacked and penetrated our defences on the south-west perimeter, and on the morning of the 1st May 30 tanks attacked towards Pilastrino.

Our forward line of defended localities on a 5,000-yard front was captured, and approximately 60 enemy tanks avoided gun positions and concentrated on our infantry forward posts. Our tanks counter-attacked and a portion of the enemy withdrew after losing 11 tanks. Enemy aircraft made numerous dive-bombing attacks on our troops and artillery positions.

On the evening of the 1st May, owing to the enemy tank action, a counter-attack did not succeed in restoring the whole of our forward line of defended localities. On the morning of the 2nd May 30 enemy medium tanks, followed by two companies of infantry, advanced against our new line, but were stopped by artillery fire.

A further counter-attack by our troops on the night of the 3rd / 4th May was not successful owing to the bold use by the enemy of tanks, machine guns and flame-throwers. Severe casualties are, however, believed to have been inflicted upon the enemy.

From the Military Situation Report for the week see TNA CAB 66/16/18

Hitler’s Passport faked

This was a demonstration of the skills of the forgery section of the Special Operations Executive who were responsible for running agents in occupied Europe. They were to develop huge expertise in the creation of a wide range of fake documentation used for personal identification.

An unusual German passport from April 1941. The red 'J' represented 'Jew' and often proved to be a death warrant when stamped on a genuine passport.

A passport signed by Adolf Hitler on 30th April 1941. This was a demonstration of the skills of the forgery section of the Special Operations Executive who were responsible for running agents in occupied Europe. They were to develop huge expertise in the creation of a wide range of fake documentation used for personal identification. After the war Gestapo documents were found that described the quality of forged documents discovered on captured agents as ‘excellent’.

The details page of the passport where Hitler's distinguishing feature is described as a 'small moustache'.