|Birth name||Bonner Frank Fellers|
February 7, 1896|
Ridge Farm, Illinois
|Died||October 7, 1973(aged 77)|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1918–1946|
|Battles/wars||World War I
World War II
|Awards||Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Legion of Merit
Bonner Frank Fellers (February 7, 1896 – October 7, 1973) was a U.S. Army officer who served during World War II as military attaché and psychological warfare director. He is notable as the military attaché in Egypt whose extensive transmissions of detailed British tactical information were intercepted by Axis agents and passed to German field marshal Erwin Rommel for over six months, contributing to disastrous British defeats at Gazala and Tobruk in June 1942. He was considered a protégé of General Douglas MacArthur.
Early military career
Fellers entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in June 1916. Due to the increased need for junior officers during the First World War, Feller's class was accelerated and graduated on November 1, 1918. Upon graduation, Fellers was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Corps.
Fellers was promoted to first lieutenant on October 1919 and graduated from the Coast Artillery School Basic Course in 1920. The drastic reduction in the Army after the war created limited opportunities for promotion and Fellers was not promoted to captain until December 3, 1934. In 1935 he graduated from the Command and General Staff School and the Chemical Warfare Service Field Officer's Course, during which time he completed his soon-to-be influential thesis "The Psychology of the Japanese Soldier".
Fellers served 3 tours of duty in the Philippines in the 1920s and 1930s. His assignments included helping open the Philippine Military Academy, the Philippines' "West Point", and liaison to Philippine President Manuel Quezon. The Philippines awarded him its Distinguished Service Star for his contributions to its defenses.
Fellers graduated from the Army War College in 1939 and was promoted to major on July 1, 1940. He was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel on September 15, 1941 and to temporary colonel the next month.
World War II
Germans access Fellers' reports
In October 1940, Colonel Fellers was assigned as military attaché to the U.S. embassy in Egypt. He was tasked with the duty of monitoring and reporting on British military operations in the Mediterranean and Middle East Theatre. The British granted Fellers access to their activities and information. Fellers dutifully reported everything he learned to his superiors in the United States. His reports were read by President Roosevelt, the head of American intelligence, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Unbeknown to Fellers, Axis intelligence read the reports: within eight hours the most secret data on British “strengths, positions, losses, reinforcements, supply, situation, plans, morale etc” were in the hands of German and Italian military.
Fellers' concerns about security were overridden and he sent his reports by radio, encrypted in the "Black Code" of the U.S. State Department. Unbeknownst to the U.S. government, the details of this code were stolen from the U.S. embassy in Italy by Italian spies in September 1941. Around the same time, it was also broken by German cryptanalysts. Beginning in mid-December 1941 (coincidentally as the U.S. was entering the war), Germany was able to identify Fellers' reports. This lasted until June 29, 1942, when Fellers switched to a newly adopted U.S. code system.
Fellers' radiograms provided detailed information about troop movements and equipment to the Axis. The information was extensive and timely to the Axis powers. Information from Fellers' messages alerted the Axis to British convoy operations in the Mediterranean Sea, including efforts to resupply the garrison of Malta. Beginning in January 1942 information about the numbers and condition of British forces was provided to General Rommel, the famed German commander in Africa. He could thus plan his operations with reliable knowledge of what the opposing forces were. The Germans referred to Fellers as "die gute Quelle" (the good source). Rommel referred to him as "the little fellow."
The information leak cost the Allies a great many lives. For example, in June 1942, the British were attempting to resupply Malta, which was under constant air attack and was being starved out. The British determined to sail two supply convoys simultaneously, in the hopes that if one were to become discovered, attacks upon it would distract the Axis from the other. Code-named Operation Vigorous and Harpoon, and sailing from Alexandria in the east and Gibraltar in the west respectively, their sailing was timed with an effort by special forces teams to neutralize Axis ships and aircraft. Fellers efficiently reported all of this. His cable, No. 11119 dated June 11, was intercepted in both Rome and by the German Military High Command Cipher Branch (OKW Chiffrierabteilung). It read, in part:
NIGHTS OF JUNE 12TH JUNE 13TH BRITISH SABOTAGE UNITS PLAN SIMULTANEOUS STICKER BOMB ATTACKS AGAINST AIRCRAFT ON 9 AXIS AIRDROMES. PLANS TO REACH OBJECTIVES BY PARACHUTES AND LONG RANGE DESERT PATROL.
British and Free French raiders went into action behind the lines in Libya and on the island of Crete. In most of these attacks, the raiders were met with the accurate fire of the alerted garrisons and suffered heavy losses while failing to inflict any damage upon the Luftwaffe. Their only success came where Fellers' unwitting early warning was either not received, ignored, or ineptly handled. Meanwhile, both convoys were located and came under attack. A day after leaving Gibraltar, Convoy Harpoon's six merchantmen and their escorts came under continuous air attack. Only two of the merchantmen survived to reach Malta. Convoy Vigorous was the larger effort. Made up of 11 merchant ships, it suffered such serious losses that it was forced to turn back to Egypt.
Debates continue on the Fellers leaks' overall impact on the battle for North Africa. For example, Prof. John Ferris argues that because Fellers sometimes reported imperfect information and assessments the leaks also contributed to Rommel's ultimate defeat: "In its last days of life, after Tobruk fell, the 'Good Source' bolstered Rommel's decision to drive all-out on Alexandria, his native over-optimism reinforced by Bonner Fellers' belief that the British would crack under one last blow. Both men were wrong; this time the intelligence failure led to German defeat."
Fellers had been ordered to use the State Department code over his objections. For example, on February 2, 1942, Fellers reported "Believe that code compromised" but was instructed thereafter that the code was secure.
British suspect a leak from Egypt
Ultra intercepts seen only by the British indicated the Germans were gaining information from a source in Egypt, and British intelligence had considered Fellers as a possible source. On June 10, 1942, the British became convinced Fellers' reports were compromised because an intercept had compared British tactics negatively to American tactics. The British informed the Americans on June 12, and on June 14 the Americans confirmed with its finding that Fellers reports were the source. Fellers switched codes on June 29, ending the leaks.
Fellers was not found at fault for the interception of his reports, but he was transferred from Egypt on 7 July 1942. His successor as attaché used the U.S. military cipher, which the Germans could not read. Upon returning to the United States, Fellers was decorated with the Distinguished Service Medal for his analysis and reporting of the North African situation. He was also promoted to brigadier general, the first in the West Point Class of 1918, on December 4, 1942.
While assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Washington, he was, recalled a colleague, "the most violent anglophobe I have encountered." However, this comment may be colored by the context of the U.S.-British intelligence situation at that time. Fellers' North African reports, which his Distinguished Service Medal citation characterizes as "models of clarity and accuracy," were bluntly critical of British weapons, operations, and leadership. An example: "The Eighth Army has failed to maintain the morale of its troops; its tactical conceptions were always wrong, it neglected completely cooperation between the various arms; its reactions to the lightning changes in the battlefield were always slow." Such assessments, meant for U.S. officials, were intercepted from the Germans by the British Ultra signals intelligence. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Britain were in the midst of highly intense negotiations begun in 1940 to establish a comprehensive intelligence partnership. The partnership was underway ad hoc and would be finalized in May 1943.
Despite the above, Fellers and his reports proved instrumental in bringing American supplies and troops to aid the British in North Africa. Throughout his tenure in North Africa, Fellers advocated for increased American support for the British in North Africa. This included both weapons and a commitment of American troops. This was at odds with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. European Command as to the level of weapons support and an American troop landing. The military policy at the time was that saving the British in North Africa was not strategically required, especially not through a North Africa invasion (Operation Torch), as that would divert focus from Operation Bolero a plan for an early European invasion.
President Roosevelt admired Fellers' reports and was influenced by them enough so that on June 29 General George Marshall wrote the President that "Fellers is a very valuable observer but his responsibilities are not those of a strategist and his views are in opposition to mine and those of the entire Operations Division". The President invited Fellers to the White House upon his return from Cairo, and they met on July 30, 1942. "Consistent with his previous reporting through 1942, Fellers argued for robust and expeditious reinforcement of British forces in the Middle East." Ironically, despite Fellers' blunt criticism, his analysis of the Middle East's strategic importance was instrumental in Roosevelt's decisions to reinforce the Eighth Army and support Operation Torch.
Transfer to Pacific
In the summer of 1943, Fellers left his job in the OSS, where he played a role in planning psychological warfare, and returned to the Southwest Pacific and resumed working for General MacArthur. Fellers later served as military secretary and the Chief of Psychological Operations under MacArthur.
During the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese, Fellers had several assignments, including Director of Civil Affairs for the Philippines. For these efforts, Gen. Fellers received a second Philippine Distinguished Service Star.
There are stories that suggest that General Eisenhower was at odds with Fellers, and had been since the time they served together under General MacArthur in the Philippines. In a recollection in her personal diary, the Countess of Ranfurly wrote of a comment made by Eisenhower when she expressed admiration for Fellers; Eisenhower reportedly replied, "Any friend of Bonner Fellers is no friend of mine!" Eisenhower apologized the next day for his rudeness. Purportedly, Eisenhower's dislike of Fellers had begun at the time the two were serving under MacArthur. MacArthur had strained his relationship with Eisenhower in 1936–1937 while in the Philippines. Subsequently, MacArthur began to use Fellers as a confidant. However, Eisenhower's views may have been so strong because he was aware of the recent leaks that had strained British relations and because Fellers had been instrumental in getting Presidential approval of increased support for the British in North Africa including Operation Torch, which was not supported by the U.S. military command, including Eisenhower.
After the war, Fellers played a major role in the occupation of Japan. Among his duties was liaison between HQ and the Imperial Household. Soon after occupation began, General Fellers wrote several influential memoranda concerning why it would be advantageous for the occupation, reconstruction of Japan, and U.S. long range interests to keep the Emperor in place if he was not clearly responsible for war crimes. He met with the major defendants of the Tokyo tribunal. In their research and analysis of events and considerable controversy about the time period, according to historians Herbert Bix and John W. Dower, Fellers—under an assignment by the code name "Operation Blacklist"—allowed them to coordinate their stories to exonerate Emperor Hirohito and all members of his family. This was at the direction of MacArthur, now head of SCAP, who had decided that there was to be no criminal prosecution of the Emperor and his family.
General Fellers, who came from a Religious Society of Friends family (commonly known as Quakers) and attended the Quaker-affiliated Earlham College, was instrumental in the selection of Elizabeth Vining, an American Quaker educator, as tutor to the Emperor's children. Ms. Vining was followed after 4 years by another Quaker educator, Esther Rhoads.
In 1971, Emperor Hirohito conferred on Fellers the Second Order of the Sacred Treasure "in recognition of your long-standing contribution to promoting friendship between Japan and the United States."
Retirement from the Army and politics
In October 1946, Fellers reverted to the rank of colonel as part of a reduction in rank of 212 generals. He retired from the Army on November 30, 1946. In 1948, his retirement rank was reinstated as brigadier general.
After retiring from the Army, he worked for the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C. In 1952 Fellers was actively involved in promoting Robert A. Taft as a presidential candidate. Fellers was a member of the John Birch Society, named for a military intelligence officer who was considered by its founding members to be the first casualty of the Cold War. In 1953 Fellers wrote a book: Wings for Peace: A Primer for a New Defense (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1953). Fellers was also actively involved in promoting Barry Goldwater for the presidency during the 1964 campaign.
|Distinguished Service Medal
with oak leaf cluster
|Legion of Merit||World War I Victory Medal||Army of Occupation of Germany Medal|
|American Defense Service Medal
|European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
with two stars
|Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
with six stars
|World War II Victory Medal||Army of Occupation Medal
with "Japan" clasp
|Philippine Liberation Medal
with two stars
- Army Register, 1936. p. 223.
- Congressional Record, November 5, 1973, Vol. 119, No. 168, available at http://bonnerfellers.com/uploads/B.Fellers_Cong_Record_Nov_5_1973.pdf
- Army Register, 1945. p. 302
- "ATTACHE TO GO TO CAIRO; U.S. Fills Military Post Second Time in History" (http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F6061FF63B5A11728DDDAB0994D8415B8088F1D3) The New York Times. 8 October 1940 Retrieved 13 August 2013. Subscription required.
- Jenner, C. J. (2008), Turning the Hinge of Fate: Good Source and the UK-U.S. Intelligence Alliance, 1940–1942. Diplomatic History, 32: 165–205, available with subscription or fee at http://dh.oxfordjournals.org/content/32/2/165.extract. Matloff, M. and Snell, E.M., Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1941-1942 (Washington, DC, 1990), 253, available at http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/001/1-3/CMH_Pub_1-3.pdf.
- Deac, Wil. "Intercepted Communications for Field Marshal Erwin Rommel". The History Net. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
- Jenner, pp. 170 & 199
- Wil Deac (June 12, 2006). "Intercepted Communications for Field Marshal Erwin Rommel". World War II Magazine.
- Ferris, J. (2008), available at http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/reviews/PDF/Ferris-Jenner.pdf.
- Jenner, p. 171, citing Fellers to Military Intelligence Division, 1 February 1942, U.S. Military Attaché, Cairo, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, RG 165, NARA
- Jenner, pp. 197-198
- Deutsch, Harold C.; et al. (2010). If the Allies Had Fallen. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. p. 336. ISBN 1616085460.
- Quoted by Jenner, p. 176, cited to "The Contribution of the Information Service to the May–June 1942 Offensive in North Africa," File 1035, RG 457, NARA.
- Benson, R.L., A History of U.S. Communications Intelligence during World War ZI: Policy and Administration, Center For Cryptologic History, National Security Agency, 1997, available at http://www.nsa.gov/about/_files/cryptologic_heritage/publications/wwii/history_us_comms.pdf.
- Jenner, p. 185, citing Memorandum, Chief of Staff for President, 23 June 1942, RG 218, NARA
- Jenner, p. 200
- See, for example, this discussion of the implementation of Fellers' civil administration master plan in "Leyte Town Quick in Reviving Itself" (http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F60617FB3555157B93C1A8178AD95F408485F9) The New York Times Times 13 November 1944 Retrieved 06 October 2013. Subscription required.
- Congressional Record, November 5, 1973, Volume 119, No. 168, available at http://bonnerfellers.com/uploads/B.Fellers_Cong_Record_Nov_5_1973.pdf
- Ranfurly, Hermione. To War With Whitaker: The Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly 1939-45. Mandarin,1994
- One memo is available at http://bonnerfellers.com/uploads/B.Fellers_Memo_to_MacArthur_Oct_2_1945.pdf
- Bix, Herbert P. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, Perennial, 2001, p. 583
- Dower, John W. Embracing Defeat, 1999
- "Finding Aid for the ESTHER B. RHOADS PAPERS" (PDF). Archived October 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
- Cited in the Congressional Record, November 5, 1973, Volume 119, No. 168.
- "212 GENERALS CUT TO COLONEL RANK". The New York Times. 8 March 1946. Retrieved 5 March 2013. Subscription required.
- Behrendt, Hans-Otto "Rommel's Intelligence in the Desert Campaign: 1941–1943" Irwin, 1985
- Bix, Herbert P. "Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan" Perennial, 2001
- Dower, John W. Embracing Defeat, 1999
- Jenner, C. J. (2008). "Turning the Hinge of Fate: Good Source and the UK–U.S. Intelligence Alliance, 1940–1942". Diplomatic History. London: Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (Oxford University Press). 32 (2): 165–205. ISSN 0145-2096. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2008.00688.x.
- Ranfurly, Hermione "To War With Whitaker: The Wartime Diaries of Countess of Ranfurly 1939–45" Mandarin, 1994
- www.bonnerfellers.com, a website maintained by the family of Bonner Fellers.
- The Bonner Frank Fellers papers, 1904-1997 are open and available for research at the Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University.
- Example of a report by Colonel Bonner Fellers which was intercepted and decoded by the Italians in 1942