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Was ULTRA a military 'operation'[edit]

Sorry to be pedantic, but .....

Is there a definition, in this main topic's context, of 'operation'? I had supposed that the term would be more limited and thus exclude ULTRA (though not questioning ULTRA's importance). If not what else can be added? PLUTO?

ULTRA was the designated title of the work and refers to the fact that the British Security Classification was RESTRICTED, CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET and TOP SECRET. Something designated ULTRA was in fact very much handed out on a need to know, eyes only information and was higher than anything designated TOP SECRET. As it was not a military operation in the sense that Operation Husky or Operation Overlord were, it was nevertheless information garnered via the Ultra de-crypts that enable military operations to proceed at a reduced or minimal risk. ULTRA information when passed to operational commanders was always done so in a manner that ensured they did not know the source of the information. The NAZI's as a result never discovered that their Enigma and Lorenz traffic was being decoded and read - they knew that it would be read but were always assured when tests showed that it was impossible to break. Incidentally the US Navy never captured an Enigma machine - that is a dream of Hollywood. They were made aware that Britain was reading Enigma Traffic. Imagine the scene if they had been made aware how they would have bragged on TV that they were reading Enigma traffic and convoy XYZ had got through because they had read the traffic. The Kreigsmarine would have immediately changed the settings making the whole thing unreadable and convoy shipping lost, the NAZI's could have conceivably won the war. As it is the reading of the Enigma and Lorenz codes is calculated to have shortened the war by about 2 years. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:37, 25 October 2013 (UTC)

Dissemination of ULTRA intelligence was definitely a military operation, although managed at the top level by MI-6. SV1XV (talk) 18:09, 26 October 2013 (UTC)
The top level of UK classification during World War II was MOST SECRET. TOP SECRET was the American equivalent which the British subsequently adopted. (talk) 17:25, 17 December 2014 (UTC)

Did the Germans Not Suspect?[edit]

Winterbotham stated, IIRC, that one reason the 1944 Ardennes offensive (Battle of the Bulge) took the Allies so much by surprise was the Germans relied on landlines and messengers to give orders; a radio silence was imposed. OTOH, the Allies had come to rely on Ultra (which supplied no information) so much that they went so far as to discount pilot reports and other intelligence reports of a troop build-up. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2602:306:CF99:1470:C438:7EAE:3832:58A7 (talk) 10:39, 28 October 2014 (UTC)

According to Ralph Bennett of Hut 3, quoted in Smith, Station X, pp.168-9, Bletchley did pick up signals that showed panzer divisions concentrating in Belgium and German jets making almost daily reconnaissance flights over the Ardennes area, but: 'No one seems to have thought: "This is rather a rum thing." So consequently we were deceived into thinking there was nothing going to happen, and when I say we, I don't mean Hut 3, I mean the British. It never occurred to us to think that something might happen down there.' Or to the Americans, who, notably, weakened their Ardennes front and left the door wide open. The Hut 3 post-mortem by Peter Calvocoressi and F.L. Lucas blamed intelligence failures at SHAEF and Air Ministry, where they just didn't join the dots. Khamba Tendal (talk) 13:22, 15 July 2017 (UTC)

Churchill, King George VI, and "It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war"[edit]

In case you've wondered whether Churchill really said to King George VI, "It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war" – in particular, would the King even have been aware of the 'Ultra' codename? – with the assistance of some others I did some digging into this. The statement is weakly sourced in its several occurrences on WP, usually to an unlinked "Cited in the Imperial War Museum's 2003 exhibit 'Secret War'" (the only thing I find there now is this page which does not suggest that) and sometimes to this History Channel page.

However I believe the root source for this formulation is Anthony Cave Brown's 1987 book "C": The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, where on page 671 he wrote:

... at the end of the war. Churchill told King George VI in Menzies's presence that "it was thanks to Ultra that we won the war."[1]

As it happens Anthony Cave Brown didn't have the greatest reputation for accuracy – see for example this Guardian obit from 2006. In this case, he footnoted this statement (footnote found on page 812) to Gustave Bertrand's Enigma ou la plus grande énigme de la guerre 1939–1945, page 256, published in France in 1973 (and the first book to really break the secrecy around Ultra, a year before Winterbotham's).

The statement in the Bertrand book comes at the end of a short passage asserting the importance of Enigma-derived intelligence for the Allied victory. The text there is:

Sans parler de cette entrevue historique, la guerre finie, où Sir Winston Churchill, présentant à S.M. George VI le Chef de l'I.S., prononça ces paroles; qui m'ont été rapportées par le général Menziès lui-même:
« C'est grâce à l'Arme Secrète du général Menziès, mise en œuvre sur tous les Fronts, que nous avons gagné la Guerre! »

This can be translated to something like this:

Not to mention this historic meeting, after the war, in which Sir Winston Churchill, presenting to H.M. George VI the Chief of the I.S., stated these words; that were reported to me by General Menzies himself: "It is thanks to the secret weapon of General Menzies, put into use on all the fronts, that we won the war!"

So it's clear that Churchill didn't use the phrase 'Ultra' and that Anthony Cave Brown didn't either accurately or fully replicate the quote. I have now done so in this article, putting some context before it to briefly explain who Menzies was.

But aside from that, to write as a straightforward fact that Churchill said this, is a bit risky. This is not something that was written on a document that has now been declassified, or something where there was a disinterested witness to the conversation who subsequently described it, or even something where we have the dates of the conversation or its later relating. There are a lot of potentially weak links in this chain: Churchill could have been overenthusiastic in the moment, or exaggerated the importance a bit to flatter Menzies; Menzies could have exaggerated the conversation, or even fabricated it; Menzies could have misremembered it when relating the encounter to Bertrand, or could have exaggerated it to play up the importance of Ultra to Bertrand so that Bertrand would feel his contribution to breaking Enigma had been important; Bertrand could have exaggerated it or misremembered it by the time he was writing his book; or things could be lost in translation.

Or, of course, it could very well be that Churchill said it and meant it and that it was accurately rendered by both Menzies and Bertrand. But given the length and nature of this chain, I think it's better for this article to say "Winston Churchill was reported to have told King George VI ..." rather than the previous "Winston Churchill told King George VI ...". Wasted Time R (talk) 02:25, 14 January 2015 (UTC)

As the de jure head of the British government, the King (and by extension Queen Elizabeth), knew everything, because as a constitutional monarch, he needed to know to be able to advise, to encourage and to warn. He had access to every paper, every document, no matter how classified, every person in the Realm if they wanted. Queen Elizabeth II is likely the best informed person in history, because she has access to every piece of paper of every government she is the head of; no one else has access to such sources. (talk) 00:50, 27 June 2017 (UTC)

According to his biographer Philip Ziegler, George VI was indeed cleared for Ultra, so there wasn't much Winston could tell him about it that he didn't already know. He saw all the same briefing papers that Winston did. Khamba Tendal (talk) 13:15, 15 July 2017 (UTC)

Rewrite as "Kahn conjectures...?"[edit]

Article says Ultra was kept secret so we could sell enigma machines to benighted 3rd-worlders and thereby obtain our secrets. Source for this is David Kahn's book review. Can't tell from source whether he actually has facts or is merely conjecturing. While I agree it's totally the kind of thing we would do, I have my doubts about finding a RS where it's clear that facts are informing this claim because of all the secrecy. I wonder whether it ought to be rewritten as "Kahn claims," letting reader draw conclusions about how factually informed the claim is. Dingsuntil (talk) 19:09, 27 April 2016 (UTC)

Uh, all the major powers played this game.
Germany was behind the Enigma, and several countries used the Enigma before and during WWII. If they ordered special rotors, the company would tell Germany the wiring of those rotors.
The U.S. used the Crypto AG/Hagelin M209 during WWII. Crypto AG gave info to the NSA. Crypto AG#Compromised machines.
Glrx (talk) 01:18, 8 May 2016 (UTC)
Then you should be able to find the citation requested? --John (User:Jwy/talk) 03:10, 8 May 2016 (UTC)
I believe Kahn is a reasonable reference for the statement.
Kahn states:[1]
Why has the story remained under tight wraps so long? It seems that after World War II, Britain gathered up as many of the tens of thousands of Enigmas as she could find and later sold them to some of the emerging nations. Presumably if she could read Enigma messages in 1940, she could do so in 1950. Only recently have these countries replaced their Enigmas with new cryptosystems.
I do not see significant doubt or conjecture in the statement. Enigmas were sold to emerging nations, Britain could read Enigmas, and Enigmas were replaced only recently.
Glrx (talk) 19:11, 11 May 2016 (UTC)
Kahn's assumption that ability to read Enigma-enciphered messages in 1940 would mean that they could be read in 1950 is only correct if the users did not use better (and better-policed) operating procedures. --TedColes (talk) 21:54, 11 May 2016 (UTC)
Actually, no. First, that's the difference between the Polish and British bombes. The Poles depended upon procedural defects, but Turing figured that would go away, so the Turing bombe went for cribs. As long as the Brits had cribs, they stood a chance. Second, if you were playing that game, you'd keep the M4s and sell only the 3-rotor machines. You'd only sell them with just a few of the ten stecker wires, and you'd provide an operations manual that had a built-in flaw. IIRC, the Luftwaffe double-enciphered the message key throughout the war; the machines could be supplied with copied manuals. We don't expect sophistication in emerging nations. Or even emerged ones: the US cryptosytems before WWII were poor.
Third, the tools available to the British were much improved. Electromechanical computation was being replaced with electronic. Modern attacks can use different methods. Early in the War, the British computed correlations manually by punching holes in cards, using a light table, and looking. Later in the war they were using using lots of punched cards (one for each shift) and accounting machines.
Diffie & Hellman (1981, p. 25) state the (plugboardless) M-209 was still used in 1979 despite Kahn (1967, p. 431) publishing how to attack it.
Glrx (talk) 17:51, 12 May 2016 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I reverted the citation tag removal because the comments did not address the suitability of the citation but just discussed the topic itself without references. That has continued to some extent here. I still think we should be able to find a source better than a book review. --John (User:Jwy/talk) 14:55, 13 May 2016 (UTC)

Glrx you are right if there really was the sort of conspiracy postulated. --TedColes (talk) 20:47, 14 May 2016 (UTC)
Kahn is a recognized author/historian about codes and ciphers. The venue in which he speaks is irrelevant. Book review should be adequate citation.[1]
The complaint that started this thread was Dingsuntil's "Can't tell from source whether he actually has facts or is merely conjecturing." I quoted the source to show (1) there is no ambiguity about collecting tens of thousands of machines, (2) there is no ambiguity about selling machines to emerging nations, and (3) there is no ambiguity about those machines being used by those countries until just before the date of the book review (1974). The only apparent conjecture/presumption is whether Britain could still break the Enigma 10 years later, but I see no conjecture in Kahn's statement; I see it as a mode of rhetorical exposition. Kahn is not suggesting that Britain lost its ability to read Enigma. The tags are inappropriate.
The secret about breaking the Enignma had some early leaks (presumably the secreted German sailors were released at the end of the war; I think Bertrand was first with a magazine article), but the flood gates didn't open until the mid 1970s with Winterbotham. Any country still using an Enigma in 1974 would be very out of touch.
Kahn 1996 pp 978-979:
The great story of the solution of the Enigma machine and its effects on World War II remained a tightly held secret for almost 30 years. Only a few tiny shards of light about it escaped, and they revealed nothing about the vast scope of the work and its vast influence on the war. The tens of thousands of people involved in the work remained utterly silent about it for decades — probably the best example of general security in history. The British government insisted upon this silence because it had given the thousands of Enigma machines that it had gathered up after the end of the war to its former colonies as they gained independence and needed secure systems of communication. (Their officials were not stupid; probably they surmised that, if the mother country was giving them these cipher machines, she could read them. But they were concerned less with Britain than with their neighbors — India with Pakistan, for example — and they were almost certainly right in that those neighbors could not break the Enigma.)
Then, by the early 1970s, the last Enigmas in service wore out, physically. There was no longer any need to keep the story secret. ...
Kahn isn't telling us what Britain read in 1950 through 1970, but that is not the point of the story. Britain isn't going to negotiate a Washington Naval Treaty with an emerging nation. Britain could, if it needed, read some of the emerging nations' traffic.
Although Hellman and others described complete attacks on the M-209 by 1979, it was apparently still being using in 1986. 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing
Glrx (talk) 17:05, 15 May 2016 (UTC)
Britain sold the system to 'emerging nations' (mainly the ex-British colonies) not because Britain could read the messages but because none of these new countries' potential enemies could, and the other countries that could, could only do so with an inordinate amount of quite-likely unjustifiable effort. Used within its limitations Enigma was an otherwise excellent system for the time.
With a few notable exceptions - such as with Idi Amin - Britain has had (and has) on the whole excellent relations with the ex-colonies so why would she want to spy on them for information when it would be simpler (and much cheaper) to simply ask the relevant High Commissioner.— Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:01, 2 November 2016 (UTC)



The reference to Sir Arthur Harris of RAF Bomber Command, though it correctly relates what Frederick Taylor says in his book about Dresden, is misleading. The only result of Harris's objections to the bombing campaign against German oil plants (as a non-Ultra, he could not know how effective these attacks really were) was his tetchy correspondence on the subject with the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal, which was a kind of bureaucratic insurance in case the oil plan didn't work. It does not mean that Harris failed to bomb the oil plants or dragged his feet in any way. He was a military officer and he obeyed orders. His orders were to continue with 'area bombing' of cities and also to attack, among other things, oil plants, so he did. The 3,000 heavy bombers of US Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces dropped about 48,000 tons on oil plants. The 1,000 heavies of Harris's command dropped some 64,000 tons, about 30 per cent more -- the oil plan was an American idea in the first place, but Harris carried out most of it. Khamba Tendal (talk) 13:32, 15 July 2017 (UTC)