Most of us are aware of multiple Allied intelligence victories in WW2. But no such things about the Axis? Were they that inefficient? I have read various theories how Abwehr members were themselves working against the Nazi. Also since both Ultra and its Japanese equivalent were compromised, was it basically game over and they couldn't do anything?

I have read some examples here, but this seems more of reconnaissance at army level then intelligence gathering.

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    Don't have sources ready to hand - but the Germans quite successfully rolled up the British network in the Netherlands and continued to intercept agents entering the country for a couple of years.
    – user13123
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 10:33
  • @HorusKol: Thanks for that info. I am aware of reverse happening wherein all German agents getting into UK were turned but didnt know it happened other around also
    – f444ran
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 11:33
  • Google "Englandspiel" for a lot of info on this operation.
    – Jur
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 9:32

3 Answers 3


Greatest intelligence success of World War 2 was achieving the element of surprise against the Red Army. The Admiral Canaris was anti-Communist in the extreme...but anti Nazi too. I think diplomatic negotiations between the 3rd Reich and Britain occurred at the highest of levels...but the near totality of these discussions remain classified in the English side to this day. Hard to tell on the American side because we captured all of the diplomatic cables going back to Bismark. The other element is Naval intelligence..which fell into British hands at the end of the War...and again remains classified.

There is a theory that Hitler himself was a kind of "useful idiot" for Great Britain...and there may be much more truth to this than we currently know.

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    I read in so many places and lot of documentaries that Stalin was informed the Nazi were going to attack but he ignored them. Was it wrong?
    – f444ran
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 12:25
  • According to the Histories I have read he believed the rumors to be an "English plot" of some sort. Having said that the Red Army Commanders on the ground took it very seriously and were calling up the reserves and readying their ground troops. There was no readying the Russian Air Force however and at least initally the Red Army had no concept of the type of warfare they were about to be attacked with. Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 13:20
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    The Kriegsmarine cracked the British merchant marine code well before the war, 1938 IIRC, and the code wasn't changed until the late 1942 or early 1943 time period. This contributed significantly to the U-Boat successes of this period. Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 13:49
  • @PieterGeerkens: Thanks for the comments. A follow up question though, did British never suspect or find out this? Just curious.
    – f444ran
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 14:38
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    @PieterGeerkens: Haha that's one way to keep a secret, never to speak of it :)
    – f444ran
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 16:15

As it was one of the more spectacular, I'd like to point to the Incident at Venlo, Netherlands at 9th December 1939, which severely crippled British intelligence and created excuse for the invasion:

On September 3, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. The Netherlands, a neutral state bordering the Reich, was now on the front line of the espionage war. Acting on the orders of prime minister Neville Chamberlain, Capt. Sigismund Payne Best (British SIS agent) embarked on a dangerous and, as it turned out, disastrous game: over the next few weeks, he opened talks with a group of Germans who claimed to be army officers plotting to bring Hitler down and end the war.

In reality, Best’s negotiating partners were top SD operatives playing a game orchestrated by Reinhard Heydrich from Sicherheitsdienst (SD - the intelligence agency of SS) and authorized by the führer himself—a game that would end with an embarrassing, violent incident in the tiny Dutch border town of Venlo. That incident resulted in Best and another British spy spending the rest of the war in a series of Nazi concentration camps. It also destroyed Britain’s continental spy network in Europe and virtually eliminated any chance that Germany’s genuine anti-Nazi resistance would ever receive help from Britain.

While going to the meeting with "disgruntled, anti-Nazi generals", British agents (Capt. Payne Best and Maj. Richard Stevens ) were spectacularly kidnapped by the SD barely few meters from the Netherlands border. They were interrogated and as result, the British spy network has been crippled:

It remains unclear just how much information Best and Stevens gave away to their SD tormentors during the first days of intensive interrogation. In his 1950 autobiography Best is guarded, and implies that he kept his inquisitors at bay with skillful verbal dueling. But he and others concluded that the more inexperienced Stevens had cracked and told all that he knew. Incredibly, when captured, Stevens had been carelessly carrying a list of all of his agents—uncoded—in his pocket.

The presence of a Dutch agent (Lieutenant Dirk Klop, accidentally killed during the kidnapping) on the meeting gave the official prof that Netherlands is cooperating with Great Britain, which was later used as an excuse for the invasion.

  • It's sometimes astonishing how incompetent the British spy services really were!
    – gktscrk
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 5:02

There are many operations -- both successful and disastrous -- listed in WP:Abwehr.

The Anschluß of Austria and annexation of Czechoslovakia was definitely helped by Abwehr efforts.

A rather prominent success was the Englandspiel. Between '42 and '44, German Abwehr basically led all British SOE operations in the Netherlands by the nose.

Playing Romania into providing Germany with access to the Ploiești oil fields was also significant. Fuel was a major issue for the Axis throughout the war, and without those oil fields the situation would have been even more dire.

All in all though, the German Abwehr had a pretty poor track record though, only partly due to the Enigma cipher being broken.


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