SIGINT, Soviet Radio Reconnaissance

Belorussia 1944 – Soviet General Staff Study

While reading “Belorussia 1944 – Soviet General Staff Study” translated and edited by David M. Glantz and Harold S. Orenstein I was as intrigued by the information discussed in the lead up to the operation as I was in the description of the operation that followed.  In particular, from my interest in Soviet Signals Intelligence in World War 2, was the passage on reconnaissance of the enemy which was inconsistent between the four fronts examined.  Of the four fronts examined in this study, 1st Baltic Front, 3rd Belorussian Front, 2nd Belorussian Front, and 1st Belorussian Front,   only two of the fronts have sections that discuss reconnaissance of the enemy, 1st Belorussian and 1st Baltic, and the information they identify in the section is significantly different.

The 1st Belorussian Front identifies that reconnaissance of the enemy has been ongoing for this operation since May and it identifies two means by which intelligence had been procured.  In particular, intelligence was gathered through imagery intelligence provided by 16th Air Army’s reconnaissance aviation and  ground reconnaissance.  It is stated that 400 night and daylight reconnaissance raids occurred during the preparatory period resulting in the a number of prisoners, documents, and weapons seized. (Page 56).  However these are the only means of intelligence discussed.

Significantly, 1st Baltic Front discusses the fact that “all types of reconnaissance” were utilized in the reconnaissance of the enemy prior to the operation, including ground reconnaissance to capture 18 prisoners, radio reconnaissance, air reconnaissance, and sound reconnaissance.  The resulting information from all these means of collection was consolidated at Front Headquarters and then plotted on a general intelligence map. From my perspective the passage on radio reconnaissance was interesting due to the lack of mention anywhere else.  “Radio reconnaissance (radiorazvedka) successfully detected enemy radio stations of Sixteenth Army in Ludza, the Third Panzer Army in Beshenkovichi, the X Army Corps in Rudnia, the I Army Corps in Borovukha, the IX Army Corps in Ulla, the LIII Army Corps in Vitebsk, the 87th Infantry Division in Skaby, etc” (Pg 30).

From reading this book, and in particular these passages, it is clear that reconnaissance of the enemy was a difficult and highly classified subject to discuss in the Soviet Army even post World War 2. The inconsistent manner in which the fronts discuss reconnaissance of the enemy and the means used to gather this information is telling.  My interpretation from this work, is that radio reconnaissance and sound reconnaissance were classified top secret and therefore not eligible for inclusion in a secret staff study where as aviation and ground reconnaissance were classified secret.

Interesting questions that remain unanswered in my mind include:

  1. Did every front have radio reconnaissance capabilities or were they an uplift provided prior to operations by Stavka?
  2. What unit conducted the radio reconnaissance, what were their capabilities, and when were they formed?
  3. Is radio reconnaissance mentioned in other soviet staff studies?

Ultimately the question is how effective was Soviet Radio Reconnaissance during World War 2 as it is a topic that largely remains in the shadows.


SIGINT, Soviet Radio Reconnaissance

The Black Hole of SIGINT

Soviet SIGINT During World War 2

A lot of information has been written about Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) during World War 2.  Movies have been made and books written about the trials and tribulations of Bletchley Park and the British effort to conduct cryptologic analysis of the Enigma machine in order to support the war effort.  Lesser known but still acknowledged are the efforts that were made by Poland prior to the war in solving German Crypto and their efforts to defeat the Enigma machine.  The efforts of the United States, in particular in defeating the Japanese Purple and Red cryptologic ciphers are published and impact considered when reviewing the battles of the Pacific.  Yet nothing is mentioned concerning Soviet SIGINT during World War 2.  There has been virtually no leaks, little mention, and therefore no acknowledgement of the efforts made by the Soviet Union in breaking the communication means of their adversaries and allies.  This lack of writing, this absence in and of itself is interesting and worth exploration.

Given this complete lack of information, there are three explanations that should therefore be considered:

  1.  The Soviet Union did not partake in SIGINT;
  2.  The Soviet Union was unsuccessful in their SIGINT and do not want their failures published; or
  3. The Soviet Union were successful and consider SIGINT a matter of intelligence to be classified and protected for a period of greater then 50 years.

My view is that the first option should be dismissed out of hand.  While there is limited knowledge of the Soviet SIGINT activities, they do exist and prove efforts were made.  My personal knowledge and bias makes me believe that option 3 is the correct option.  In particular while studying Electrical Engineering the contributions of Russian mathematicians and physicist in the 20th Century were pronounced.  Cryptographic work is heavily based in math and cryptologist are often chess players.   I would therefore be surprised if the Soviet Union did not have a large, and successful SIGINT program during World War 2.

I would propose that the Soviet Union had a successful SIGINT program during World War 2.  In particular I would like to explore the possibility that the Soviet Union was successful in deciphering German codes and the Enigma machine. I know that I will never be able to prove Soviet success as only the declassification of Soviet records will definitively prove their success or failure.  However, I hope that through an examination of Soviet capabilities both prior to, during, and after the war a technical trend line can be developed.    Further, I hope that by studying Soviet actions during the war additional evidence can be gained to prove that they had succeeded in breaking German codes.  As I discover information I will post it to the blog, and I would gladly invite comments or collaboration in this endeavour.

I will end this post by thanking Geoffrey Jukes for all the work he has done on this theory to date.



Historian, SIGINT, Soviet Radio Reconnaissance, Uncategorized

Learning About the Past

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the conflicts that occurred on the Eastern Front during World War 2.  The size and scope of it is beyond my comprehension.  Conflict stretching from the Arctic Circle to the Black Sea, from Stalingrad in the East to Vienna in the West.  Millions of people fought and died in these four years, not just Germans and Russians, but Finish, Romanian, Italian, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Polish, among a host of nationalities.  It was a conflict that drew combatants from all across Europe and Asia but was not limited to military combatants.  It drew civilian and military alike into the conflict.  It was a conflict, the likes of which I hope is never seen again.

I want to understand how this war was fought.  I would like to understand not just the why but the how, and what occured to the best of my ability.  To this end, I will ask questions, seek insights, and hope that the community at large can assist me in finding answers that will hopefully shed some insight on how, why, and who fought in this conflict.

Thank you for your time, and I hope that these questions, comments, and posts I put forth inspire, entertain, and inform you.