Signals intelligence in the Mediterranean in WW2

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  • #2716
    C. M
    Participant

    I have recently been reading The Italian Navy in World War II, Commander Marc’Antonio Bragadin of the Italian Navy, [trans Gale Hoffman, Annapolis 1957]. The author refers throughout this book to the fact that Royal Navy signals were being read by the Italians throughout the war period. This has made me consider the following:
    When did the RN realise their codes were broken?
    Were any RN signals containing information that had been acquired through our breaking of Axis codes intercepted by the Axis?
    Who has the upper hand on what was actually taking place in this theatre?
    A number of Axis ships were sunk by RN submarines during this campaign and a few of them were transporting allied prisoners of war. Did any person or organisation in the allied structure know that these ships were transporting prisoners?
    I have tried to research this subject but I cannot find any satisfactory answers to these questions.

    #2717
    Frank Scott
    Participant

    Your Italian book was written some two decades before the Ultra secret was revealed in print.
    A key issue for code breaking in particular and signals intelligence in general is timeliness. In this respect we now know that not only Ultra had its ups & downs, but also some quite long ‘black-out’ periods, notably as regards the battle of the Atlantic.
    Since the revelation of Ultra in the mid 1970s there has been a lot written about intelligence in WW2. A notable Mediterranean naval success assisted by Ultra was the battle of Matapan [March 1941], where Admiral Cunningham went to great lengths to conceal the assistance provided by signals intelligence.
    As regards the separate issue of submarines sinking ships carrying POWs, I am sure that Ultra would not have been involved. Unlike hospital ships, which were officially declared, and conspicuously identified, those carrying POWs had no protected status and took the same risks as any other ship.
    The controversy over the Laconia incident, which arose in September 1942 after U-156 discovered that it had torpedoed a ship carrying Italian POWs, is the best known example of this problem.

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