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World War II - The Covert War
Enigma_machine (44K)

Tools of the covert trade:

Left: an example of the German Enigma cipher machine.

Right: A set of acetone time-fuses, a camera disguised as a matchbox, and a secret map hidden inside a playing card.

OSS_tools_01 (9K)
OSS_map_cards (12K)

Spy stories have become cliched to the point of comedy in the past few years, while spy organizations like the CIA alternate between being the butt of vicious jokes and the bad guys in wacky conspiracy theories. It's easy to forget that once upon a time, spy stories were not fiction, and covert operations were a deadly serious matter, with many lives riding on the outcome. But such a time really existed. In fact, it's not an exaggeration to say that without covert operations, the Allies might not have won World War 2.

Codes, Ciphers, and Cryptanalysis

One critical aspect of the covert war was codes and ciphers, and the groups on all sides who worked to break them. Communications is critical in modern warfare. So is the ability to keep those communications secure, so that your side can read them and the other side can't. The correlation is striking: in battle after battle, the side that kept its plans and communications more secure won. The best-known example of this is the Battle of Midway, but there are many other examples as well.

  • BETWEEN SILK AND CYANIDE: A Codemaker's War 1941-1945
    Author: Marks, Leo
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Free Press
    ISBN: 0-684-86422-3
    Code-making is the opposite of code-breaking: you try to devise a code good enough that the enemy can't break it. Leo Marks spent much of the war doing exactly that for covert British agents in German-occupied Europe. His story is both interesting and depressing -- interesting because of what he was doing, depressing because even in the middle of the Second World War, his superiors engaged in all kinds of stupid, petty politicking, that made Marks's job harder and probably cost several agents their lives.
  • CODE BREAKERS: THE INSIDE STORY OF BLETCHLEY PARK
    Author: Hinsley and Stripp (eds)
    Copyright:1993
    Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks
    ISBN: 0-19-285304-X
    In WW2, the German armed forces used codes and ciphers based on a machine called the Enigma. The Germans believed this system was unbreakable, and by conventional standards it was. The British countered with a massive codebreaking operation based at the country estate called Bletchley Park, which used some very unconventional methods including the first electromechanical computing machines. This book contains a number of essays about Bletchley Park and its work, including technical specifications on the Enigma machine, why it was an effective security device, and how the British cracked it.
  • COMBINED FLEET DECODED
    Author: Prados, John
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Random House
    ISBN: 0-679-43701-0
    What the British did to German Enigma, the Americans did to Japan's naval codes. Alone among the major combatants of WW2, the Japanese Navy never used a mechanical cipher system. Instead, they encoded messages using a complicated numeric cipher system that was much easier to break. The American codebreakers were perhaps even more successful against Japanese codes than the British were against Enigma, and it paid huge dividends from the first day of the Pacific War to the last. This book is a thorough and complete history of the American codebreaking effort against Japan.
  • SEIZING THE ENIGMA: The Race to Break the German U-boat Codes 1939-1943
    Author: Kahn, David
    Copyright:1991
    Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
    ISBN: 0-395-42739-8
    A very detailed examination of Bletchley Park's steady and usually successful fight against the ever-more-sophisticated ciphers used by the U-boat Arm.
  • ULTRA SECRET, THE
    Author: Winterbotham, F.W.
    Copyright:1974
    Publisher: Dell
    ISBN: 0-440-19061-4
    The story of Operation Ultra, the British operation to break and read german Air Force codes and ciphers in WW2.

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Covert Operations and Undercover Agents

These books discuss covert operations of all kinds, from operations in enemy territory to counter-intelligence operations aimed at defending against enemy operations.

  • ASSAULT IN NORWAY
    Author: Gallagher, Thomas
    Copyright:1975
    Publisher: Bantam Books
    ISBN: 0-553-20248-0
    One of the Allies' greatest fears during the war was that Nazi Germany would develop the atomic bomb first. The approach that Germany took to developing an A-bomb depended on a supply of heavy water. The only source for heavy water in German-occupied Europe was a single site in Norway. This book is the story of the commando raid that destroyed the heavy-water factory and crippled the Nazi A-bomb program.
  • BEYOND TOP SECRET ULTRA
    Author: Montagu, Ewen
    Copyright:1977
    Publisher: Coward, McCann, & Geogheg
    ISBN: 0-698-10882-3
    During the Second World War, the British naval intelligence service's Section 17M engaged in a huge operation to feed false information to the German intelligence service, the Abwehr, through double agents and other deceptions. Ewen Montagu worked in Section 17M through most of the war. This book is his first-hand story of how Section 17M operated and what it accomplished.
  • DOUBLE CROSS SYSTEM, THE
    Author: Masterman, J C
    Copyright:1972
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-29743-1
    An account of Great Britain's wildly successful counter-intelligence operations during WW2, in which they turned many German agents and used them to feed false information to the German High Command.
  • MAN WHO NEVER WAS, THE
    Author: Montagu, Ewen
    Copyright:1953
    Publisher: Bantam Books
    ISBN:
    It was a plot that puts any James Bond story to shame -- even more so because every word is true. In spring 1943, British intelligence agent Ewen Montagu conceived a daring plan to feed false information to the German General Staff, in order to help cover the invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky). The plan involved using a fictional British army officer to let German agents capture letters containing what seemed to be top-secret details on upcoming Allied operations. It was codenamed Operation Mincemeat, and it was so successful that the Germans never realized the whole thing had been a set-up, even long after the invasion of Sicily took place.
  • OSS IN WORLD WAR II, THE
    Author: Hymoff, Edward
    Copyright:1972
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 345-22882-0-165

  • OSS SPECIAL WEAPONS & EQUIPMENT - Spy Devices of WWII
    Author: Melton, H. Keith
    Copyright:1991
    Publisher: Sterling Publishing
    ISBN: 0-8069-8239-X
    This is a catalog of weapons and devices that were available to OSS field agents during the War. Some are conventional: fighting knives, small pocket pistols, a spring-loaded expanding billy club. Some are well-known saboteur's tools: bombs and time-fuses of many kinds. Some are odd: a silenced M3 submachine gun, a chemical for disabling car and truck engines, a single-shot gun fitted to the back of a glove. Some are right out of James Bond: single-shot guns disguised as cigarettes and pens, collapsible crossbows, dart guns, one-man submarines. A fun book to leaf through for anyone interested in military gadgets.
  • SAS WITH THE MAQUIS: In Action with the French Resistance June-Sept 1944
    Author: Wellsted, Ian
    Copyright:1997
    Publisher: Greenhill Books
    ISBN: 1-85367-285-8

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Intelligence on the Battlefield

These books looks at the operational aspects of intelligence and covert operations: how they were used on the battlefield to help defeat the enemy and change the course of the war. Some battles literally could not have been won without accurate intelligence; others would have been far longer and more costly.

  • BODYGUARD OF LIES
    Author: Brown, Anthony Cave
    Copyright:1975
    Publisher: Harper Collins
    ISBN: 0-688-10281-6
    "In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." So said Winston Churchill in December 1943. The Allies assembled a truly enormous bodyguard of lies to protect the truth of Operation Overlord, the plan to invade Normandy. This book is the story of Plan Bodyguard, also called Operation Fortitude, the widespread and incredibly elaborate plan to feed the Germans false information that would make them look fearfully in every direction except the real one: the beaches of Normandy.
  • FORTITUDE: The D-Day Deception Campaign
    Author: Hesketh, Roger
    Copyright:2000
    Publisher: St. Ermin's Press
    ISBN: 1-58567-075-8
    Another detailed investigation of Operation Fortitude, the enormous, elaborate deception used to keep the Germans from learning the true time and place of the invasion of Europe.
  • STRATEGIC DECEPTION IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR
    Author: Howard, Michael
    Copyright:1990
    Publisher: W. W. Norton
    ISBN: 0-393-31293-3
    A general look at the tactics and techniques used by the British during WW2 in their ongoing attempts to deceive the German High Command as to the direction of Allied strategy.
  • TROJAN HORSES: Deception Operations in the Second World War
    Author: Martin Young & Robbie Stamp
    Copyright:1989
    Publisher: Mandarin Books
    ISBN: 0-7493-0603-3
    A collection of short studies of various deception operations during the War, and the men and women who carried them out. Dummy tanks, fake army units, false radio messages, sabotage -- the whole gamut of deception operations is covered.
  • ULTRA AT SEA
    Author: Winton, John
    Copyright:1988
    Publisher: Wm. Morrow & Co.
    ISBN: 0-688-09422-8
    Even the best intelligence information is of little help if field commanders don't use it. In this book, Winton talks about how the Royal Navy used the information it received from Bletchley Park's codebreakers and the Admiralty's Operational Intelligence Centre.
  • YOU CAN'T FIGHT TANKS WITH BAYONETS
    Author: Gilmore, Allison B.
    Copyright:1998
    Publisher: Univ of Nebraska Press
    ISBN: 0-965-059866
    An account of some of the psychological-warfare and propaganda techniques used by Allied psy-ops units against the Japanese in the Southwest Pacific Theater.

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