Blethcley Park And D-Day: The Untold Story Of How D-Day Was Won”; New Book By David Kenyon
David Kenyon has a new book out, “Blethcley Park And D-Day:: The Untold Story Of How D-Day Was Won,” published by Yale University Press. Mr. Kenyon is a British archaeologist and military historian, and is particularly known for presenting and interpreting World War I history at public events. Mr. Kenyon’s book was reviewed in the July 15, 2019 edition of the Wall Street Journal, “Clearing The Fog Of War,” by Helen Fry. Ms. Fry is a historian who has written widely on WWII; and, her latest book, “The Walls Have Ears: The Greatest Intelligence Operation Of WWII,” will be published this September.
As Ms. Fry notes, “the success of British code-breakers at Bletchley Park during WWII has become legendary. The technological challenges they faced were huge. Racing against the clock, men and women like Mavis Batey, Dilly Knox, and Alan Turning took messages intercepted by Allied intelligence and looked for ways to decrypt the German Enigma codes — which changed daily, and Adolph Hitler believed unbreakable. Many books have been written about Bletchley; but none has focused exclusively on the significance of its work for D-Day,” Ms. Fry notes.
“As Allied nations commemorate the 75th anniversary of the largest amphibious landing in military history,” Ms. Fry wrote, “historian David Kenyon reveals in “Bletchley Park And D-Day: The Untold Story Of How The Battle Of Normandy Was Won,” that the British signals intelligence (SIGINT) operation, by then known as “Ultra,” reached its peak performance only immediately prior to the beginning of Operation OVERLORD, the code-name given the invasion. By the day (June 6, 1944) the first troops landed,” Mr Kenyon writes, “Bletchley Park had become “an intelligence factory, with ancillary operations conducted all around the United Kingdom.”
“As of June 4, 1944,” Mr. Kenyon, “drawing on [newly] declassified files and new research, the outfit had an estimated, combined personnel of 7,825, many of them brought on shortly before,” Ms. Fry wrote. “Mr. Kenyon shows us how the work of the site extended beyond Enigma (the German encryption machine), the “bombe,” the machine invented to decipher Enigma messages) and Colossus, (the early computer used to decode ciphers). Its support of D-Day, Mr. Kenyon argues, should be considered one of Bletchley’s most consequential achievements.”
“It all began in the summer of 1938, as war with Nazi Germany loomed,” Ms. Fry wrote. “British intelligence purchased the country estate called Bletchley Park, and relocated the Government Code and Cipher School there, from its headquarters some 50 miles to the southeast, in central London. Polish and French efforts to crack the Enigma codes had already begun. But, in 1939, the British, laboring in sparsely furnished huts amid the quiet and secluded surroundings of Bletchley Park, began working around the clock on the problem.”
“Bletchley Park’s formal role in the D-Day preparations began in October, 1942, with the formation of the Western Front Committee, its four members responsible for ensuring that Bletchley intercepted, analyzed, and organized the intelligence needed for a potential invasion,” Ms. Fry wrote. “Hut 6, for example, was responsible for deciphering German German army and air force Enigma codes. The intensive analysis of enemy communications traffic carried out in Hut 6 helped produce a map of German networks, army movements and formulations. Decrypted messages helped locate the headquarters of the elite SS Panzer-Korps divisions, and informed the Allied commanders of the locations and strengths of SS units in France.”
“Mr. Kenyon draws attention to how Bletchley provided the intelligence necessary to ensure the success of the D-Day invasion. as well as corroborating the effectiveness of the false plans laid out to fool Hitler into believing the invasion would happen further up the coast, near Calais,” Ms. Fry wrote.
“Among the most valuable sources of intelligence were the destroyed “Fish” messages intercepted from the “Bream” and “Jellyfish” networks,” Ms. Fry wrote. “Bream was the communication link between Berlin and Field Marshal Albert Kesselring in Italy. Jellyfish was the teleprinter connection between Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt — Hitler’s Commander-In-Chief in the West — and his masters. The first Jellyfish breaks came in April 1944, mere weeks before D-Day, and allowed the allies to read the top secret messages and strategic discussions between Rundstedt and Hitler’s military command.”
“Despite years of intelligence-gathering at Bletchley Park and other sites leading up to D-Day, the war could not have been solely with intelligence,” Ms. Fry wrote, and a gross understatement. But, I digress. “There had to be boots on the ground, and the full-scale invasion of Normandy,” she adds. “”Behind the scenes, the ability to crack Enigma and intercept other communications, enabled the successful landing of 156,000 American, British, and Canadian troops on the Normandy beaches, with hundreds of thousands more landing by the summer. The complexity of the entire task is sometimes hard to comprehend, as Mr. Kenyon points out:” “If one (or more) of the numerous different advantages possessed by the Allies had been absent, the invasion might have failed.” In fact, it almost did. Indeed, at one point near mid-day on June 6, 1944, Gen. Omar Bradley — Gen. Eisenhower’s top on-the-ground commander — considered evacuating Omaha Beach and reinforcing the British and Canadian landings at Juno, and Sword.
Mr. Kenyon “further explains how Bletchley Park’s intelligence job was far from over with the D-Day landings,” Ms. Fry wrote. “Battles in Normandy in the following weeks were hard-won, and the gains slow — the Allies had expected to enter Caen on the first day of the invasion; but, it would be more than six weeks before they did so. Yet, Bletchley continued to provide Allied commanders with intelligence to track and monitor enemy units headed to the battlefield. This was vital, ahead of the Battle of Arnhem and the Ardennes campaign in the weeks and months that followed.”
“Mr. Kenyon’s book adds substantially to our understanding of the vast operational-intelligence machine that the Allies assembled,” Ms. Fry concludes. “Certainly OVERLORD without ULTRA would have been a much riskier undertaking,” Mr. Kenyon argues. Mr. Kenyon concludes: “Bletchley enabled D-Day to take place in June 1944, rather than 1945 or 1946, when the tide of war might have turned back in Germany’s favor. Ultimately, it contributed to the end of Nazism, the liberation of Western Europe, and the restoration of democracy.”
There is no doubt that Blethley Park and Allied intelligence operations saved many lives and helped to shorten the war. But, I am a bit uncomfortable with the implication that intelligence gathering played such a crucial role in the D-Day invasion and beyond as implied in the title of Mr. Kenyon’s new book.. As noted British military historian Anthony Beevor wrote in “The Spooky Side Of WWII,” June 23, 2016, in the New York Times Book Review, “The secret war probably produced more misleading myths than any other aspect of the conflict. The outcomes of most clandestine efforts are virtually impossible to quantify, so specious assertions have abounded. It has been claimed, for example, that Ultra, the British project to decode German messages, shortened the war by months if not years. For these reasons alone, we badly needed a reliable reassessment to put the secret war in perspective, and this Max Hastings accomplishes with fine judgment in his new book (The Secret War: Ciphers, Spies, And Guerrilla’s 1939-1945).
Mr. Beevor adds that “Bletchley Park could never be the fount of all knowledge, yet many senior intelligence officers proved blind to the natural flaws of British analysts, such as the inability to process material in time when overloaded with messages, or provide material when the Wehrmacht imposed radio silence on attacking formations. Bletchley was very useful, on the other hand, when military leaders needed to know whether deceptions such as Plan Fortitude—the elaborate and highly successful operation that convinced the Germans that the main part of the cross-channel attack in the summer of 1944 would be landings around the Pas de Calais—had been swallowed.”
“The biggest and most effective deception of World War II,” Mr. Beevor wrote, “occurred on the eastern front in June 1944, when the Red Army concealed its preparations for Operation Bagration, which became the encirclement of the German army in Belorussia, and pretended to be attacking further south. Russian historians, however, are still loath to accept how much they were aided by the RAF and USAAF bombing offensive against German cities. This forced the Luftwaffe to withdraw most of its fighter squadrons to defend the Reich in 1943, thus giving the Red Army aviation supremacy and making German aerial reconnaissance virtually impossible.”
Stephen Budiansky, writing a review of Mr. Hastings new work in the May 7/8, 2017 Wall Street Journal, wrote that “While many an author has touted the contribution wartime intelligence made in the eventual outcome of WWII, Mr. Hastings, “at the outset, makes the provocative suggestion that Allied intelligence may have had no effect at all on the outcome of the war,” Mr. Budiansky wrote. Mr. Hastings quickly asserts this caveat — “this seems too extreme a verdict.” “But,” Mr. Budiansky adds, Mr. Hastings goes on to make an insightful argument that at least when it came to spies on the ground, the treachery and deceit that formed the core of their being, usually neutralized any [real] effectiveness they had.”
Nonetheless, this new book by David Kenyon looks like a must read for intelligence professionals, like myself (retired). I am looking forward to reading it; and, will do my own book review when done. RCP, fortunascorner.com