The School that Disappeared

Fort Bridgewoods

By Paul Croxson

It  was  a  simple  enough  request,  ‘What  did  I  know  about  the  Intelligence  schools and  their  numbering?’ ‘Not a lot,’ was the answer. The title ‘schools’ seemed designed to confuse the enemy.  Their primary function was to direct the search for specific German signals. Not much more than this  was recorded. 

To be honest, I hadn’t looked at this subject for a number of years during my Sigint searches and so  just  sent  off  some  scrambled  notes that I  happened  to  have following  some  research  for the  late  Alan Edwards. When I later read them, I realised that they were in somewhat of a mess and so spent  some  time  sorting  the various  schools into  some  semblance  of numerical order. All  the  schools of  intelligence  I  had  details  of, seemed  to  be  numbered. One  thing  was  apparent though, I had  not  been able to trace where No. 1 Intelligence School was located and what went on there. I was well  aware of the schools numbered 2 to 7 but no. 1 appeared to have evaded me. I decided to spend an  hour or so trying to find the answer to the ‘missing’ School. I did find two un-numbered schools but  these were cipher schools, one in Herne Hill, SE London and the other in Yorkshire. Not what I was  looking for; they were mainly Royal Signals training establishments, it seemed! 

In my search for clues, I found myself, once again, buried in what I consider to be possibly one of the  best-informed books on  Enigma, The  Hut  Six  Story written  by  Gordon  Welchman,  one  of  the  foremost members of B.P and certainly without the approval of the authorities. In passing. I  find it  quite extraordinary  that so much credit is given  to Alan Turing  for  the breaking of Enigma and  the  development of  the Bombes, whilst the major contribution made by Gordon Welchman is virtually  ignored.  In  my  view,  which  is  now  becoming  the  accepted  view, Welchman’s  contribution  to the  solving  of  Enigma  and  the  creation  and  development  of  the  system  of  Huts  3,  6  and  8  was  of  paramount  importance:  equalling  Turing.  One  might  say  that  he  ‘industrialised  the  extraction  of  Enigma intelligence’. In addition, it is impossible to put a value on his immense contribution to the  development  of  the  Bombe which  resulted  in  there  being  some  disagreement  between  him  and  Turing – which is, again, often glossed over. The Bombes would have been much weaker unless or  until  someone else had his  flash of inspiration about  the diagonal board turning  them into potent  indispensable weapons in the fight against Enigma. 

As  Peter  Calvocoressi,  who  also  worked  at  B.P, pointed  out,  in  its  pre-war  incarnation  the  Government Code & Cipher School under the Foreign Office was exactly what its name implied and  no  more.  ‘Intelligence’ played  a  very  small  part, it  being  left  to  SIS,  their  neighbours in  London.  Welchman’s  great  contribution  was  to  ‘marry  a  scarcely  formed  intelligence  process  to  code breaking,  forming  a  sophisticated  system  for  Sigint  exploitation’,  which in  parallel  with  Winterbotham’s contribution enabled the safe dissemination of the ‘product’, worldwide to all three  Services and the SIS. 

The  three  armed  services  had  each  built  up their  own intercept  networks; some, as early as the  twenties, but separate and more  secret  still  were  those  operated  by  the  Foreign  Office, MI5  and MI6  who  were  listening  to the  highest  levels  of  German  Secret  Service communications. Fort Bridgewoods near Chatham was one  of these, with its civilian staff of operators. 

When  I  first  read Hut  6 some  twenty-odd  years  ago I  knew  very  little  of  the  story  of  Bletchley  Park  and  Enigma  and  so  was  delighted to be re-acquainted with the story, knowing, as I do, so  much  more  now about  what  went on  there; particularly reading his  accounts,  sadly  not  very  lengthy or  detailed, of the  work  carried  out  at  Fort  Bridgewoods. I had  heard of  its existence  but  little of its role in the development of interception. Welchman mentions it several times and praises  it – in particular the commanding officer, Commander Ellingworth – as being an important tool in his  search  for  the  solution  of  Enigma. There are  just  tantalising  glimpses. It  was  another  piece  that  I  could put in place in the puzzle. 

The Fort played several vital roles in the Enigma story, not least in the training of civilian intercept  officers who, as civilians would form the backbone of the intercept service in the UK. (Could this be  then  the missing No. 1  School)?  These  operators were  of a  standard  unmatched anywhere at  the  time.  Since  accuracy – particularly  when  recording  the  preambles  – was  vital  in  the  search  for  Enigma, their work was greatly prized. As the workload increased and  they moved  from Chatham, they would go on to train army personnel at both Chicksands and Beaumanor. 

What  again  was  interesting  and  worthy  of  further  investigation  was  the  battle  for control  of  the  intercept sets between Ellingwworth and Welchman and Colonel (Arcedekne) Butler, Head of MI8. MI8 had retained responsibility for what is often called the ‘steering’ of the intercept, despite efforts  by  the  growing  GC  &  CS  to  take  it  over. In  correspondence from  Welchman  to  Travis,  the then Deputy Head at GC & CS he specifically refers to this problem, pointing out that ‘ his view there was  no need for ‘another intelligence school’! (I had been diverted from my search for No. 1 Intelligence  School but  was  this  a  clue to  lead  me  back  to  the  straight  and  narrow?) What  new  school  been  proposed and by whom? 

Welchman had built up what was a very good and fruitful working relationship with Ellingworth and  his intercept  team. This, however, did not apply  to Butler,  the head of MI8:  far  from it! On 1 April  1941, Welchman  wrote  what  is  by  any  standards  a  highly  critical  and  inflammatory  letter  to  Commander E Travis, at the time deputy director of B.P. regarding the Head of MI8. He wrote, 

Unfortunately,  Col.  Butler  has  continually  tried  to  take  away  the  work  of  the  Chatham  Intelligence  School and to interfere with our (GC & CS) close co-operation with Cdr Ellingsworth. He has founded  unnecessary organisations in London and elsewhere which he attempts to place between us and the  (intercept) stations. We and Cdr Ellingsworth have had to waste a considerable amount of energy in  fighting  changes  which  we  knew  to  be  against  the  national  interest.  The  latest  danger  lies  in  the  formation of Intelligence School No, VI under a new colonel who knows nothing about ‘E’ traffic from  the cryptological or from the wireless point of view. We are to be deprived of the greater part of the  valuable intelligence work  that  has  been  done  under Ellsworth and instead we are asked  to accept  

intelligence  from  another  party  whose  reliability  we  do  not  trust’.  .  .  ‘the  clash  is  between  Cdr  Ellingsworth’s  intelligence  school  (so,  it  was  an  Intelligence  School  at  Chatham)  and  Col.  Butler’s  intelligence School. We say without hesitation that the former is essential to us chiefly owing to the experience  of  Cdr  Ellingsworth  himself  and  that  Col.  Butler’s  school  is  not  only  unnecessary  but  a  nuisance.  The  work  that  has  been  done  by  Col.  Butler’s  party  could  have  been  done  better  under  Ellingsworth at GC & CS. 

And  this  was  at  what  was  possibly  one  of  the  most  dangerous  periods  in  our  history!  This  was  extremely  strong  – almost  venomous  – criticism  of  the  man  who  headed  up  MI8  and  a  serious  comment on the units he was responsible for, not least 6 I.S., which went on to perform a vital role  finally  forming  the  backbone  of  what  would  become  known  as  ‘SIXTA’  at  B.P.  At  this  point  Welchman’s patience with Butler seems  to be exhausted to  the extent  that his dissatisfaction was  recorded in writing at  the highest level! It is important  to appreciate  that  these disputes were not  always about the same problem which in retrospect is almost unbelievable at such a critical time in  the  war.  Although  he,  Welchman,  had  clearly  lost  patience  and  trust  with  Arcedeckne-Butler  he  certainly was very much in favour of what could be achieved within his MI8 organisation.  

Gordon  Welchman  undoubtedly  was  one  of  the  greatest  contributors  to  the  success  of  ULTRA  intelligence, having first established contact with it in December 1940. Farsightedly, he certainly saw  the  presence  of  the  log-readers  in  the  future  lay  at  B.P. rather  than  Beaumanor  or  London as  he  made very clear in Hut Six.1 On 17 July 1941 6 I.S. moved from London to Beaumanor. Shortly after  this,  on  June  16  1941, Colonel Arcedeckne-Butler left MI8 and was succeeded  by  Colonel Nicholls  (later Brigadier F W Nicholls), Royal Signals. Although nothing is said in the records, no doubt there  was probably an almost universal sigh of relief at his departure.  

To make matters worse, there were still problems; the quarrels between GC & CS and MI8 which had  precipitated the inquiry in the winter of 1940/1941 still had not died down despite the departure of  Butler. These quarrels erupted again, mainly centred on the fact that, while MI8 was responsible for  intercepting German Army and GAF traffic and for subjecting it to traffic analysis, GC & CS controlled  Cryptanalysis separately  and  independently from  intelligence.  It  was  this  dichotomy  that  would  always be a cause  for discussion and dissent, until resolved when it later became an accepted  fact  that cryptanalysis and traffic analysis are inseparable, or at least, not easily separated: but this was  in the future.  

Perhaps a potted history of the Fort would not go amiss. It was built in the late 19th century as one  of the forts that defended the landward approach to Chatham Dockyard. It protected the approach  from Maidstone and  the  flank of Fort Borstal. It was  polygonal in  shape and  had a  deep  dry  ditch  around it. The entrance was via a roller bridge and either side of the entrance gate were machine 

gun loops, which was  the  first appearance of  this  feature at Chatham. The  fort was  first started in  about 1879 by convict labour, but due to lack of money and a fading enthusiasm for building forts,  work stopped and it wasn’t until 1892 that Fort Bridgewoods was finally completed 

A War  Office  Y  (intercept)  station  had  been  based  at  Fort  Bridgewoods  since 1926, initially  responsible to GC & CS and then, following its creation in 1938, to MI8. The first five operators not  only carried out overseas interception work of which there was very little to do in those early days;  but also other  tasks;  for example,  in  their  very early  days at one  time they were even on  loan  to Chelsea  Barracks  where  they  provided  point-to-point  communications  with  other  government  stations around the country during the General Strike.                       

1 The Hut Six Story, W.G. Welchman, McGraw Hill, 1984

Although  by  then, nominally  a  Royal  Signals  establishment,  from January 1935 the station  was staffed by civilian operators commanded by  Lieutenant  Commander  (retd) M J W Ellingworth  RN, and  responsible  to  GC  &  CS. The station was the first to regularly intercept German  wireless  traffic recognised  as  being sent in the high-grade Enigma cipher and was, for  a  time,  the  mainstay  for providing intercepted  wireless  traffic for  the  few codebreakers who would eventually end up at Bletchley Park. By  1933/34  the  Enigma  machine  had  been  adopted  by  the  Germans  as a basic unitary cipher system for the three armed forces, as well as military  intelligence  (the  Abwehr),  SS  formations, Nazi  Party  security and  political intelligence service  (S.D.). Even other agencies of  the Third Reich such as  the railways and  police eventually adopted it in various formats. What was key to the success of the Enigma machine  was that, with minor modifications, Enigma could be used independently and in total safety by all of  these organisations.  

There was not  that much  traffic  to intercept. From the outbreak of war until the invasion  firstly of  Norway and Denmark and then France, virtually complete radio silence was initially adopted by the  Germans.  Following  the  invasions with  landlines  not  being  initially available,  German  wireless  activities greatly  increased.  A  hutted  encampment  was  built  in  the  woods  adjacent  to  the  fort to  house  the  increase  in  operators,  and  also  other  buildings  were  built  inside  the  fort to  house  the  teleprinter operators and other clerical staff. 

It might  seem an elementary  question  but  how  did the interceptors know  that  the messages  that  they  were  intercepting  came  from  German  sources  and  how  did  they  recognise  them  as  being  Enigma?  Direction  finding  had  made  the  origin  of  the  messages  obvious very  quickly.  To cryptologists, an Enigma cipher was easily recognisable by its nearly perfect disposal of letters with  the messages in neat  five-letter groups. It didn’t correlate with natural language – in any language  some letters occur more  frequently  than others – and  statistical calculations of  frequencies of  the  letters were completely useless. It had  to be a machine cipher that was being used; something UK  cryptologists had been fearing for some time. 

Fortunately, most  messages  had  two  characteristics besides  the  wireless  frequency  in  which  they  were  being  transmitted. As well as  the geographical  point  of  origin which could  be established  by direction finding they carried the callsign of the sender who would identify himself at the start of a  message; the equivalent of starting with their name and address. By a combination of these it was  possible  to  establish  that  a  unit  using  such-and-such  frequency  was  located  at  or  near  X.  Even  without reading the actual message there was intelligence to be gained. Military intelligence, under  MI8 had worked for some time on the assumption that any machine-enciphered messages would be  impossible to decrypt. This should have been the case! 

Most of the British-intercepted Enigma messages which were being studied by GC & CS were being  ‘plucked out of the ether’ by the then very experienced civilian operators at Chatham. Unbeknown  to  them,  they  were  also being  intercepted  by  both  the  Poles  and  the  French.  Each  day’s  accumulation of messages, painstakingly and accurately handwritten by the operators, was regularly  bundled up and sent to B.P., together with a report on the day’s traffic. The operators were under  the impression that the messages were being deciphered which accounted for the care with which  they were recording them. Alex Kendrick, a civilian member of ‘Dilly’ Knox’s2 staff at B.P. had been  given the task of indoctrinating Welchman on his arrival into the little that was known about Enigma. It was  these reports, not  the messages, that Gordon Welchman and Kendrick worked on at B.P. in  the  early  days with  very  little guidance from  Knox the  nominal  Head  of  the  department.  They  concentrated on what were to be known as ‘callsigns and discriminants’, working at B.P. in what was  then referred  to as  the ‘School’  based on it  having  been originally part of Elmers School. (No,  this  was not the missing No. 1 Intelligence School). In the early days there was little organisation and cooperation between  the staff at B.P.;  this level of work had never been envisaged.  For example, in  the early days when Welchman made what he thought was an important breakthrough, he rushed  to tell Dilly Knox. He was more than a little disappointed to be told that ‘they already knew about it’.  Surprisingly, despite this, Welchman was very kind in his criticism of Knox. 

The work  at  B.P. was  entirely  independent  from  what  was  going  on  within  MI8 in  London even  though,  inevitably  there  was  some  duplication; not  surprisingly, bearing  in  mind  the  haphazard  nature of MI8 in London. In those early days, before the decryption of messages all that they could  do  both  in  London  and  B.P. was  to  record  all  the  characteristics  in  a  methodical  manner,  not  knowing  where  this might  lead.  Sadly, Chatham, this  highly efficient  and  very  secret  organisation, had been producing this little-used output for some time. Being indecipherable, the actual messages  that  they  were  intercepting and painstakingly recording were useless although  the  intercept  operators  did  not  know  this rather  the  reverse. (Later  on  more  than  a  million  un-deciphered  messages – all painstakingly recorded – would be destroyed). 

Welchman paid at least one visit to Chatham early on his time at B.P., in  fact his  first outside visit, after joining B.P. was to Chatham. He immediately made friends with Commander Ellingworth who went on to teach him many things that as he put it, he ‘badly needed to know’. However, Welchman did not give away the fact to Ellingworth that B.P. had a number of decoded messages that had been handed over by the French, proving that it was possible, although he did discuss French intercepts in  

general. There are tantalising hints that there was more going on at the Fort than just interception in Welchman’s book. On describing this first visit, he mentions that ‘the traffic analysts at Chatham had  other (sadly unspecified) tasks’. 

In  1940,  the  services, mainly  the War  Office,  and  not  the  user  of  the  product,  Hut  6 as  it  would  become known,  controlled  the  tasks  undertaken  by  the  intercept  stations. This was a  contentious  issue.  Around  1940,  presumably  on  Butler’s  instructions,  Chatham  even  removed  six  sets  from  Enigma  cover  without  notifying  or  consulting  with  GC  &  CS.  Hut  6  protested  but received  little  

2 Alfred Dillwyn ‘Dilly’ Knox CMG, was originally a British classics scholar and papyrologist at King’s College, Cambridge and chief  codebreaker at B.P.

sympathy from the military and air force authorities who considered it to be something of an Act of  Grace on their part even to allow GC & Cs any voice in the allocation of the sets. Hut Six had even  had  to  battle  to prevent  Enigma  coverage  being  transferred  from  highly  skilled  civilian  army  operators to unskilled RAF operators with potentially disastrous results.3 

One  thing  that we do know is  that Ellingworth had  the highest of security clearances, having been  indoctrinated into the secrets of Enigma by the time he visited B.P.’s Hut 6 early in 1940. Welchman  had become ‘deeply  suspicious  of Colonel Butler’s motives and  had watched several small  set-ups  spring  up in  London in  an  effort  to  expand  his  control  over the  W/T  traffic and  to  gain  as  much  intelligence as possible. 

Group Captain Blandy, head of the RAF Y Service could not resist joining in the dispute. Although the  RAF Y Service had not at this stage started to monitor any Luftwaffe ground to air traffic, he wrote  patronisingly  that ‘Hut six who had been complaining had not begun  to understand  the niceties of  interception and  that their complaints would not have been voiced had  they attended a course at  Chatham or Cheadle on traffic analysis’ which was possibly true while Enigma had not been broken.

Whilst interception work officially ended at Bridgewoods in March 1941 following on  from it being  bombed when at least one woman (WRAC) killed. The bulk of the staff moved to Chicksands which  was  followed  by  a  move  to Beaumanor due  to  the  discontentment  of  the  female  staff who  complained bitterly about the presence of bats in the set rooms at the Priory.  

3 The Bletchley Park Codebreakers, Ralph Erskine and Michael Smith (eds.), Bantam Bletchley Press, 2001

A  group  of  senior  EWAs  (Experimental Wireless  Assistants)  was  unofficially still maintained  at  the  Fort as  trainers and  they  undertook  the  training  of many local  schoolboys who were  recruited  for  this secret work. Ellingworth was a churchwarden at St Mary’s Strood where the vicar was the Revd Donald  Brand.  Ellingworth  put  Brand  to  work  as  a  recruiter  for  young  men  who  were  considered  suitable  for  secret  war  work.  Recruitment  amongst  Boy  Scouts  was  particularly  successful.  Brand  also provided initial accommodation for them whilst they underwent their training as Experimental  Wireless  Assistants.  Training  took  some  three  months and  involved  a  daily  grind  of  Morse  code  tuition. Weekly  test  were  taken  and  these  were  administered  by  Albert  Stevens  who  had  been a  chief instructor in the Royal Signals. Other instructors, Hadler and Blundell, were from the first five  operators recruited as early as 1926.  

There was a rather bizarre end to this story. At the end of the war, in 1945, despite the invaluable  work  that  they  had  done  as  civilians working  in  a military  capacity, the  ‘schoolboys’  would  all  be  conscripted into  the  Royal  Signals  to  undertake  their  national  service.  Most  went  on  to  end  up  working for GCHQ in various capacities and at least one, Sandy Le Gassick, went on to attain the rank  of Lieutenant Colonel and was awarded the MBE.  

There  is  no  doubt  that  these  operators  were  probably  amongst  the  finest  in  the  ‘business’.  One  member of the Fort staff, Chief Petty Officer Albert Stevens RN, is said to have taken a perfect copy  of the long signal sent to Group North by Bismarck and it is claimed that it was from this signal that  the Admiralty were able to pinpoint the location of Bismarck after initial contact had been lost. This  claim should be treated with some caution as there was no D/F facility at the Fort and the Fort was  not usually involved in naval traffic. It was shortly after this, though, that Bismarck was sunk by ships  of the Home Fleet. A similar claim – probably baseless – is made for Chicksands. The story goes that  Stevens was called to see Ellingworth in his office shortly after this event under the impression that  he was in  for a rollicking for some error, but instead was given a generous measure of whisky and  told that he had ‘played a vital part in the sinking of the Bismarck’. 

It  was  during  a  night  watch  at  Bletchley  Park,  a  year  or  so  later,  that  Ellingworth  introduced  Welchman to one of his secrets; the fact that, completely unknown to B.P., he had maintained a core  of operators at Bridgwoods after  the move  to Chicksands (and  then Beaumanor). They provided a  diversity of interception so what could not be heard at Chicksands or Beaumanor could possibly be  intercepted  at  Fort  Bridgewoods.    This small  force  would  be  maintained  until  the  end  of  WWII, proving its value.

With  Butler  eventually  out  of  the  way, Welchman  established  a  closer personal  relationship  with  Lieutenant Commander (retd) Ellingworth RN the officer in charge at Bridgewoods, which continued  throughout the war particularly after the move to Beaumanor when Ellingworth became in charge of  the operators there. This relationship brought about a vital interplay between Hut 6 at Bletchley and  the heads of watch at Beaumanor and Bridgewoods Whilst at Bridgewoods, Welchman had talked to  Ellingworth about certain messages being given priority. As a result, the message headings, including  message  disciminants,  for  certain  intercepted priority  traffic  were  sent  by  teleprinter  to  Bletchley  Park so  that messages  that  were  likely  to  be  capable  of  a  break  could  be  transmitted  to  them  as  priority.  These  became  known  at  Bridgewoods  as  ‘Welchman  Specials’.  Initially  Welchman  was  concerned at  the security implications of his name being used but  there was no need  for concern.  There was another ground for concern in that the operators were under the impression that all the messages that they were painstakingly logging were being decrypted. Would they have been quite  so diligent had they known that their work was destined for the wastepaper baskets? 

It appears that the Fort was not dedicated entirely to Enigma. There is evidence from ex-members of  the staff that interception work at Bridgewoods was also linked directly with the work undertaken by  Professor R  V  Jones  and  his  battle  of  the  beams and  the  Knickerbein  beacons.  Bridgewoods  was definitely taking German Air Force traffic from the experimental unit that was working on the beam  transmitting stations, and thereafter from the beam station organisation some of which was in ‘plain  language’ due  to  the incompetence of  the operators.  By  then, some secrets of Enigma  (Red) had  been  broken and  this enabled  Prof ‘Bimbo’ Norman in Hut  3  to alert  Jones  to  vital messages  that  allowed him to ‘break the beams’ as Churchill was to put it.4 

MI8 was not only concerned with Enigma also; in fact, Butler and  the majority of  those concerned  initially  were of  the  opinion (correctly) that  it  was,  as  a machine  cipher,  unbreakable. The  signals  intelligence department of the War Office ran the Y station network. Additionally, for an 18-month  period, from late 1939 until mid 1941 it also ran the Radio Security Service, under the designation of  MI8c. At the start of WWII, Vernan Kell the head of MI5 had introduced a contingency plan to deal  with  the problem of illicit radio  transmissions. A new body was created,  the Radio Security Service  (RSS),  headed  by  Major J  P  G Worlledge.  He  was  not  new  to  the  intercept  world.  Until  1927,  Worlledge  had  commanded  a  Military  Wireless (intercept) Company  at  Sarafand  in  Palestine.  His  brief now was to; intercept, locate and close down illicit wireless stations operated either by enemy  agents in Great Britain or by other persons not being licensed to do so under Defence Regulations,  1939’. As a  security precaution, RSS was also initially given  the cover designation of MI8. Working  from  cells  at  Wormwood  Scrubs,  Worlledge  selected  Majors  Sclater  and  Cole-Adams  as  his  assistants, and Walter Gill as his chief traffic analyst. Gill had been engaged in wireless interception  in World War I and recommended that the best course of action would be to find the transmissions  of the agent control stations in Germany. He recruited a research fellow from Oxford, Hugh Trevor Roper,  who  was  fluent  in  German.  Working  alongside  them,  at  Wormwood  Scrubs,  was  John  Masterman,  who  later  would  run  MI5’s  double-agent  XX  program.  Masterman  already  had  agent  SNOW,5 and Gill used his codes as the basis for decrypting incoming agent traffic. 

RSS assigned the task of developing a comprehensive listening organisation to Ralph Mansfield, 4th  Baron Sandhurst, an enthusiastic amateur  radio operator. He had  served with  the Royal Engineers  Signal  Service  during  World  War  I and  had  been  commissioned  as  a  major  in  the  Royal  Corps  of  Signals in 1939. Sandhurst was given an office in the Security Service’s temporary accommodation in  Wormwood  Scrubs  prison.  He  began  by  approaching  the  president  of  the Radio  Society  of  Great  Britain (RSGB), Arthur Watts. Watts was not new to the Sigint world having served as an analyst in  Room 40 during World War I following the loss of a leg at Gallipoli. Watts recommended that for a  start,  Sandhurst  recruit  the  entire  RSGB  Council,  which  he  did.  The  RSGB  Council  then  began  to  recruit the society’s members as voluntary interceptors (VI). Radio amateurs were considered ideal  for such work because they were widely distributed across the UK. 

4 Most Secret War, R V Jones, Penguin, 2009, pp. 127 

5Arthur Graham Owens, later known as Arthur Graham White (14 April 1899–24 December 1957) was a Welsh double agent for the Allies during the Second World War. He was working for MI5 while appearing to the Abwehr (the German intelligence agency) to be one of their  agents. Owens was known to MI5 by the codename SNOW, which was chosen as it is a partial anagram of his last name.

The VIs were mostly working men of non-military age, working in their own time and using their own  equipment. Their transmitters had been impounded on the outbreak of war, but their receivers had  not.  They  were  ordered  to  ignore  commercial  and  military  traffic  and,  to  concentrate  on  more  elusive  transmissions.  Each  VI  was  given  a  minimum  number  of  intercepts  to  make  each  month.  Reaching that number gave them exemption from other duties, such as fire watching. Many of the  VIs  were  issued  a  special  DR12  identity  card.  This  allowed  them  to  enter  premises  which  they  suspected  to  be  the  transmission  source  of  unauthorised  signals. There  is  no  record  of  whether  these were used. RSS also established a series of radio direction finding stations in the far corners of  the British Isles, to identify the locations of the intercepted transmissions. 

The  recruitment  of  VIs was  slow,  since  they  had  to  be  skilled,  discreet,  and  dedicated.  But within  three months, 50 VIs were at work and had identified over 600 transmitters – all firmly on the other  side of the English Channel. It soon became apparent that there were no enemy agents transmitting  from the UK. In fact, all German agents entering the UK were promptly captured and either interned or turned to operate as double agents under the supervision of the XX Committee. In some cases, a  British operator took over their transmissions, impersonating them. The German military, it appears,  did not realise this. By May 1940, it was clear that RSS’s initial mission to locate enemy agents in the  UK was complete. 

Initially, messages logged by VIs were sent to Wormwood Scrubs. But, as the volume became great  and  as  Wormwood  began  to  suffer  German  air  attacks,  RSS  sought  larger  premises.  They  chose  Arkley View, a large country house near the village of Arkley in the London Borough of Barnet which  had already been requisitioned for an intercept station. It was given the cryptic postal address of Box  25, Barnet. There, a staff of Intelligence Corps analysts and cryptographers began their duties. The  RSS  had in effect  become  the civilian counterpart  of  the military’s Y Service intercept  network. By  mid-1941, up to a staggering 10,000 logs (message sheets) a day were being sent to Arkley and then forwarded to B.P. 

Although it was not in  their remit, in early 1940, Trevor-Roper and E W B. Gill had  the  temerity  to  successfully decrypt some of these intercepts which demonstrated the relevance of the material, but  succeeded  in  annoying  both  B.P. and  MI6  in  the  process.  In  May  1941,  RSS’s  success  and  this  resentment resulted in control of the organisation to be transferred. There was brief battle over who  should control it but, in the end, it became the communication and interception service of MI6. Prior  to this they had no such dedicated capability. From this, Trevor-Roper formed a low opinion, which  he later expressed, of most pre-war professional intelligence agents. 

The  new  controller  of  RSS  was  Lieutenant  Colonel  E  F Maltby and  from  1942,  Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Morton Evans was appointed Deputy Controller. Roland Keen, author of Wireless Direction  Finding,  was  the  officer-in-charge  of  engineering.  By  now,  the  service  was  well  financed and equipped with a new central radio station at Hanslope Park in Buckinghamshire (designated Special  Communications Unit No.3 or SCU3). The Abwehr was now being monitored around the clock. The  volume  and  regularity  of  the  obtained  material,  enabled  Bletchley  to  achieve  one  of  its  great  triumphs  in  December  1941,  when  it  broke  the  Abwehr’s  Enigma  cypher,  giving  enormous  insight  into German intelligence operations. 

At its peak from 1943 to 1944, RSS employed – apart from VIs – more than 1,500 personnel most of  whom had been amateur radio operators. Over half of these worked as interceptors while a number investigated the numerous enemy radio networks. This revealed important information, even when  it was not possible to decode messages. Few transmissions by secret agents of German Intelligence  were  believed  to  have  evaded  RSS’s notice.  Changes  in  procedure,  which  the  Germans  used  for  security, were in many cases identified before the enemy had become familiar with them. Following  the end of the war, RSS HQ moved to Eastcote and was absorbed by GC & CS, by then GCHQ. 

One only has to mention Bletchley Park and inevitably you will get the response, Enigma. Bearing in  mind  how much  of Enigma was  unreadable  for much  of  the early  days  of  the war  it  is  somewhat  surprising  that  other methods  of extracting  intelligence and  their  product, have  in  the main been  ignored or overlooked. These methods other than by decryption, have, over the 60-odd years since  the end of the war, received far less attention than the actual breaking of Enigma and its product – decrypted messages. Probably with the tacit approval of the authorities, possibly a deliberate ploy to  help maintain the story that operated properly, Enigma was unbreakable? 

One aspect of Enigma we do know of is that much of the material that R V Jones had to support his  beating the beams battle was derived from German high-grade Enigma traffic, probably intercepted  at  the Fort. In his memoirs, Professor Jones mentions  the fact  that he was a  regular and welcome  visitor to B.P. and was a close  friend of Winterbotham, (possibly due to the senior RAF position he  held  within  MI6) but  unfortunately,  nowhere  in  his book Most  Secret  War:  The  Story  of  British  Scientific  Intelligence  1939-1945  does  he  reveal  anything  of  the  co-operation  with  Bridgewoods;  though, interestingly,  he makes  several mentions  of ‘the  contributions made  by the  RAF Intercept  Stations’. Could  Jones  have  been  confused  or  misled,  one  wonders, about  the  origins  of  the  information? But is this likely although Chicksands with its male operators did not open until 1941; almost a year after ‘Freya’?6 The beam traffic was quite remarkable, as Bridgewoods had managed  to find the radio traffic of the German experimental unit that was developing the beam stations and  beam  flying.  These  were  not  well-trained  radio  operators  but  scientists  and  consequently  they  innocently betrayed their radio frequency schedules and Enigma settings. On one particular day, one  of  the operators at Bridgewoods  took  traffic in plain language  from  this group who were  trying  to  sort out an Enigma setting problem, and during the course of the exchange [all in Morse code] they gave the wheel setting and plug settings on the Enigma machine on that day, a godsend to Bletchley! 

At  B.P.  before  Enigma  was  broken,  what  little  intelligence  that  could  be  obtained  apart  from  direction finding came from the analysis of what were known as the preambles of what, by then, had  been  recognised  as  Enigma messages. Unknown  to  them,  coincidentally, similar  work  as  going  on  within MI8 in London. Initially formed on May 16 1918, MI8’s role at that time was the censorship of  telegraphic cable traffic. Conveniently it was housed in Electra House, London, home of the Eastern  Telegraph Company, (later to be merged into Cable & Wireless). It had a very short post-war life as it  was abolished in 1919 as part of the post-war reorganisations. A few days after the outbreak of war  in September 1939, an offshoot of MI1(X), was formed, called Military Intelligence Branch 8 (MI8).7 Its role was to ‘collate and pass on to the proper quarters intelligence derived from study of enemy  communication  systems  and  to  recruit  and  administer  the  military  personnel  needed  for  signal  intelligence’. It was given responsibility for all the army intercept stations, the so-called ‘Y Service’ in  

6 One of the first to give British Intelligence any details about the Freya radar was a young Danish flight lieutenant. Thomas Sneum who at  great risk to his life, photographed the radar installation on the Danish island of Fano in 1941, bringing the negatives to Britain in a dramatic  flight 

7 (WO165/38)

the UK. It was placed under the command of the newly promoted Colonel Arcedeckne-Butler who,  from 1934 up until  then, had been scientific officer and superintendent of a unit known as Signals  Experimental Establishment at Woolwich in London, where  they were developing  radio equipment  for  the army. It included early work on what came  to be known as  radar. It would appear  that he rapidly  gained  the  view  that  developing  traffic  analysis  could  provide  valuable  intelligence.  MI8  would  be  the  channel  through  which  Sigint  would  pass  to  the  branches  doing  substantive  intelligence  and  would  also  become  the  centre  for  all  army  traffic  analysis.  In  this  organisation  a  small  group  of  analysts  was  beginning  to  study  the  German  radio  networks which  could  be  constructed  from  the  Chatham  intercept  reports.  Their  objectives  were  very  different  from  Welchman’s. Whilst he was  still concerned with  their hopes  for breaking Enigma  traffic,  they, MI8  had  started  with  the  assumption that  the  Enigma  traffic  was  unbreakable.  Their  objective  instead  was to derive intelligence from a detailed study of these radio nets. 

The Enigma messages as transmitted by the German operator would consist of what appeared to be  an unenciphered preamble followed by an enciphered text. The preamble was quickly established as  being  part  of  the  procedure  for  encoding  and  decoding  the  encrypted  part  of  the  text.  A  typical  message contained six potentially valuable items of information  

The callsigns of the radio stations involved: first the sending station then the destination(s). The time of origin of the message 

The number of letters in the text (in five-figure groups) 

An indication of whether the message was complete or was a specified part of a multi-part message 

A  three-letter  group  which  Welchman  and  Kendrick  called  the  discriminant  which  enabled  the  different types of Enigma traffic to be recognised; and 

A second three- letter group which became known as the indicator setting

This would all be followed by  the operator making a note of  the  time of  the  transmission and  the  frequency on which it had been transmitted. 

At its simplest, T/A, as it is usually referred to, is the investigation and analysis of wireless networks,  who is  involved  in  them, the  examination  and  analysis  of  operating  frequencies,  callsigns  and  operator chat in what is generally referred to as plain language. Without this who is saying what and  to  whom,  the  efforts  of  Bletchley  Park  would  have  been  wasted  as  a  source  of  intelligence.  As  a  measure perhaps of its importance to the intelligence world the official history, a B.P., department  known as SIXTA, with its appendices, is one  of  the most important  components  of T/A  during  the  war – has still not (as at 2016) been released.  

There was  certainly an MI8  presence as  can  be  seen in  the  photograph  of  the Fort’s Home Guard There in  the  front  row  is  Captain  (later Major) Jolowicz  of  the  Intelligence  Corps who  would  also  work in No.6 I.S. This was the first – possibly the only – indication of any Corps members being based  at Chatham. It is interesting that he is wearing the Corps cap badge very soon after the founding of  the  Corps, having been  transferred as  temporary  captain  from  the General  List  to  the Intelligence  Corps. He was one of the key people working in the Compilation and Records Room (CRR) z. He was later employed in the No. 6 Intelligence School, formed on 25 March 1941, which was known, firstly,  as Intelligence School VI and then as Intelligence School No. 6. This school was possibly the source of  the  controversy  between  Welchman  and  Butler.  Lieutenant  Colonel  Thompson  opened  the  headquarters of  No.  6  I.S  (6I.S) His  instructions  were  to  ‘concentrate  on  research  into  German  methods  of signals  and  wireless  procedure’ at  Beaumanor,  known  as War  Office  Y  Group.  In July  1941. Its role was redefined as ‘to teach and carry out analysis of the enemy signals traffic (in other  words,  traffic  analysis),  building  up  a  picture  of  the  enemy’s  communications’.  On  1 August, the  school was formally opened ‘to control WOYG (War Office Y Group). From here, the original Fusion  Room would operate. Later, it moved  to 57 Netherhall Gardens Hampstead in 1943 under Colonel Lithgow with Major Jolowicz, a member of the staff, his own house becoming the officers’ mess. The  name of the unit was changed to Special W/T Training and Research Wing. Courses would last about  six  weeks  and  were  mixed  courses  for  intelligence  officers  and  NCOs  of  the  British  and  Canadian  armies who were to staff S.W. Sections for the invasion of Western Europe. Following the move from  Beaumanor, No. 6  Intelligence School  Merged  into  B.P. and  would  later become  part  of  what became known as Sixta. Jolowycz went with them to be employed in the military wing. 

To go back to the photo for a moment; next to Jolowycz is a ‘Capt Owen (CRR). We know that there  was a Captain W.J Owen who was in the Corps and who is known, like Jolowycz, to have worked in  the Mil Wing of GC&CS. CRR (Compilation & Records Room) was of course the department in which  Jolowycz was employed whilst at the Fort. 

Bridgewoods had played a pivotal part in the initial Enigma breaks, as the quality of the interception  was  so  good.  Indeed  some  of  the  B.P.  codebreakers  wrote  to  Churchill,  complaining,  when  they  found that Bridgewoods was to be closed and the service moved to Chicksands where the operators  were  notoriously  slipshod  and  then,  even  worse,  to  the  unknown  Beaumanor.  The  move  to  Chicksands was almost certainly precipitated by a bombing incident in October 1940 when a stray oil  bomb  made  a  direct  hit  on  the  bridge  over  the  moat  where  several  vehicles  were  parked  at the  changeover of the shift. Several people were killed, including three ATS teleprinter operators. A Sub  Lieutenant Connely RNVR dived  for cover under one of  the vehicles and  fortunately chose  the one  that was not directly hit! Sidney Wort, later Major Wort, and second-in-command to Ellingworth had to attend the mortuary the following day and identify the bodies.  

It is a  shame  that Bridgewoods  did  not  survive in  the  same way  that Bletchley  Park  has and, until  now, has not been given the credit for the vital work that was done there. Whilst the story of Enigma  has  become  part  of  the  national  history,  the  work  of  the  interception  stations  is  still  shrouded  in  secrecy as in 1945, they did not stop but merely changing their focus to the ‘Bear in the East’. Efforts  were  made  to  introduce  the  monitoring  of  French  traffic  but  this  disloyalty  caused  such  anger  amongst B.P. staff that the idea had to be dropped! 

In  1953  Ellingworth  retired  from  Beaumanor,  then  an  intercept station  and  training  centre  for  operators outside of Leicester, he received an OBE for his war work. The schoolboys were all posted  into the Royal Signals in 1945 to undertake their national service. Most ended up working for GCHQ  in  various  capacities  and  at  least  one,  Sandy  Le Gassic,  went  on  to  attain the  rank  of  Lieutenant Colonel and was awarded the MBE. The search for No. 1 Intelligence School goes on.

I was sitting,  thinking as I do about various Sigint puzzles when suddenly a  thought came  to mind.  B.P. as GC&CS  described it as a ‘School’. Was it possible that it had been known at some time as ‘No.  1’? 

If so, I need not look any further 

The Hut Six Story, W G Welchman, McGraw Hill, 1984 

The Bletchley Park Codebreakers, Ralph Erskine and Michael Smith (eds.), Bantam Press, 2001 Pursuit: The Sinking of the Bismarck, Ludovic Kennedy, Fontana, 2001. 

Most Secret War: The Story of British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945, R V Jones, Penguin, 2009 Wireless Direction Finding, Roland Keen, Illife & Sons, 1938.