[Intelforum] Bombing of Coventry & ULTRA
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Wed Aug 29 11:00:41 EDT 2007
From: "R.A. Ratcliff" <cliffrat at hotmail.com>
To: intelforum at lists101.his.com
Subject: Bombing of Coventry & ULTRA
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 05:27:40 +0000
Actually Enigma and the 'Ultra Secret' come into the Coventry
question only slightly and belatedly. The myth stems from F.W.
Winterbotham's colorful tale in _The Ultra Secret_ (1974): Churchill
knew Coventry would be bombed, but kept silent to protect the Ultra
secret that the British could read messages encrypted by Enigma
machines. In fact, this story (as well as the wonderful one of
cabling thank yous to a mythical agent in Naples as a cover story)
stems from Winterbotham's memory and not from the facts.
The British knew the Germans planned a large raid and recognized,
from various sources, that the target was not London, but somewhere
in more central England. They alerted the authorities and emergency
services in several major cities, including Coventry. Only late in
the afternoon of the raid did the intelligence services realize
Coventry was the target -- not through reading Enigma intercepts, but
through the 'beams' or radio wave pulses sent from occupied Europe to
guide the German bombers to the target through triangulation.
At that late hour an evacuation of Coventry would have created a
traffic jam of sitting ducks for German bombers (think the traffic
jams preceding Hurricane Katrina by with 1940s cars, rationed petrol,
blackout driving conditions, etc. etc.). I would argue the
intelligence services saved lives by putting the emergency services
on alert and making certain the first bombers were quickly spotted so
that fighters scrambled as soon as possible and air raid sirens
sounded promptly sending people into their air raid shelters.
I would suppose, but can't prove, that more lives were lost in the
cover stories for Ultra -- airmen in reconnaissance sweeps designed
to provide cover for Ultra knowledge of German convoy movements,
scout patrols and diversionary forces sent up against forces Ultra
revealed, the 'spies', 'agents', and 'traitors' the Germans preferred
to suspect when they insisted upon Enigma's security.
Coventry suffered enough without thinking, even briefly, that it
could have escaped had it not been sacrificed to a hypothetical loss.
Harry Hinsley debunked Winterbotham's claims in the official
history's first volume, but Winterbotham's stories are so perfect for
both the British and the Allied historiography of the war and of
intelligence that they refuse to fade. I confess to having 'wasted'
considerable time trying to verify the story of the message sent to
On the other hand, Winterbotham convinced the Germans that Enigma had
been broken after several others couldn't -- from Kozaczuk's 1967
story of the Polish success to the Swiss-American in the US Navy
reporting to the Abwehr in 1943 that Americans were reading naval
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