HW 1, Government Code and Cypher School: Signals Intelligence Passed to the Prime Minister, Messages and Correspondence, 1940-45

This series contains summaries of selected signals intelligence reports issued by the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS, later GCHQ), and sent by the head of the Secret Intelligence Service (M16), "C", to the Prime Minister (or, in his absence, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Lord Privy Seal) in batches several times each day during the Second World War (using the code name BONIFACE), with associated correspondence.

The documents are organized chronologically and comprise the original cover notes and actual documents passed on, complete with annotations and minutes.

In addition to the cover note from the head of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), each file usually has three main components but can include associated correspondence and some intelligence reports from other sources. The main features of the reports are usually laid out as follows:

  • Items CX/FJ, CX/JQ, or CX/MSS[1]: reports relating to enemy ground and air forces in Europe and derived from high-grade cyphers such as ENIGMA.
  • Naval headlines: summaries of Spanish, German, Japanese, and Italian naval activity.
  • BJ reports: selected translations of intercepted diplomatic telegrams.

The documents were returned to GCCS for safekeeping rather than being retained by the recipient.

The material in this collection is vast, containing 3,794 separate items and covering virtually all aspects of the military campaign waged by Britain and its allies against Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan. The early files in the collection relate to the Eastern Front and the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. One of the files (HW 1/30) describes heavy German losses east of the Dnieper and German advances in the central sector between Briansk and Kiev. The report also contains details of atrocities including the shooting of 367 Jews by a German SS police regiment. Other files include rumors of a possible Soviet-Finnish peace proposal (HW 1/60) and a progress report on the German 11th Army, dated September 11, 1941 (HW 1/64).

Later material in the series contains reports intercepted in September 1942 on German preparations for the attack on Stalingrad (HW 1/876), and initial reports that the German army had overwhelmed Soviet defenses and broken into the city (HW 1/893). Subsequent messages report heavy fighting (HW 1/996), and disagreement within the German High Command, with the Luftwaffe “not anxious” to obey Hitler's order to transfer fighter and Stuka groups to the Stalingrad area.[2] The first reports of the German defeat at Stalingrad (HW 1/1355) were picked up on Japanese cables and reported differences between Hitler and German military leaders with the defeat described as "the worst disaster that has befallen the German army since Napoleon beat them at Jena.”[3] Subsequent messages, intercepted from Lisbon in late February 1943, claimed that Hitler endured a “nervous crisis lasting a fortnight because of the distress at the Stalingrad defeat.”[4]

The files also throw light on initial German reactions to the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944 and the subsequent liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe. Initial reports on D-Day highlight German confusion, with accounts from sea defense units in Normandy reporting some parachutists as straw dummies. Later reports contain details of the German surrender and accounts of Japanese diplomacy.

 

Dr. Stephen Twigge, Head of Modern Collections, The National Archives, UK

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