The Good Source – Axis access to US Army Communications


The Good Source was how the German intelligence who handled his information called the US military attache at the US embassy in Cairo, Colonel Bonner Fellers.  You can read a lot of background about what he transmitted and how the Axis got a hold of it at this link.

At a visit to NARA today, and without looking for it, I came across the report Bonner Fellers sent on 19 January 1942, after the air offensive against Malta started, and just two days before Panzergruppe Afrika would begin its offensive that would take it to the Gazala line.


Bonner Fellers Having Canned Corned Beef Meal in Libyan Desert Nov 11 1941. The Bonner Fellers family

At this time, the security of diplomatic cipher systems was a matter of concern at least to the British.  On 22 January 1942, just three days after the memo reproduced here was sent, ‘C’, the head of the SIS at the time, sent the draft of a telegram to Churchill, suggesting that he might “care to send this to the President” (Roosevelt). In it, ‘C’ outlines the concerns the British had about the security, or rather lack of it, of US military and diplomatic cipher systems, and suggest bringing together the specialists to make the system more secure.

The German General at the Headquarters of the Italian Armed Forces
(Military Attache Rome)
Ic Nr. 206/42 Secret Command Affair


1) Commander in Chief South
2) German Navy Command Italy

(Report was passed on to Supreme Command of the German Armed Forces and Supreme Command of the German Army)

Regarding: German air attacks on Malta.

Comando Supremo has sent over the following, intercepted telegram for information:

19 January 1942. From Cairo to the War Ministry in Washington – Secret –
1.) The week ending with 17 January brought a slight increase – but not on a large scale – of the operations of Axis air forces in Libya.  No new air units were noted, however the existing German units in Africa were brought up to full strength. 25 – 30% of the aerial activity in the desert falls on the Italian air force, while the operations against Malta are exclusively and affair of the German air force.
The information service of the RAF has not reported anything of the increase of air units of the Axis during this week and gave an evasive answer when questioned, by saying that there were no signs of changes.  It is believed that the German air force is now stronger than I reported it in my Report No. 545. The flyers of the RAF have reported that they, as can be seen in the report of the information service of the RAF, have counted 36 planes in all of Sicily. The information service of the RAF expects a gradual increase of the German air force until 1 April, so that the total strength in spring, as it is increased in the east and in Greece, will probably reach 1,000 combat planes here. The number of German fighters in Libya and Sicily at the moment exceeds 200 planes, all of them Me 109.  The German combat and fighter planes have a longer range of action than the similar planes of the RAF.
The main target of the German reconnaissance and bomber planes whose bases are on the Peloponnes, is the sea traffic from Alexandria to Tobruk, Derna and Benghazi. The English want to bring 1,200 tons daily to Tobruk, 200 tons to Derna, and 6-800 tons to Benghazi.  This goal of 2,000 tons per day has not been reached yet, and the RAF fears that the sea route will become too costly for its own fighters and the navy.
2) The heavy attacks on Malta continue.  All bombers have been withdrawn, only the Hurricanes remaine there.  On 26 December some Ju. 88 attacked the airfield of Luka, destroyed six planes on the ground and damaged others. An explosive bomb hit a fuel dump: 25 Wellington 8, which stood within a radius of about half a mile were rendered unserviceable; amongst the ground crews there were significant losses.  Despite the strong air defence (see my report No. 130) – and the strong fighter force on Malta, it is obviously the intent of the Germans to destroy the fighter force, to subdue the garrison of the island by air attacks with bombs and machine guns, and to interrupt the British supply traffic, to ensure the unimpeded sea traffic of the Axis and to control the western Mediterranean as a final goal. Without a doubt this goal also includes the occupation of the island. It is expected that at least three weeks are required to eliminate the usefulness of Malta. Following from the action against Malta it has to be expected that the next goal is to block the eastern exit of the mediterranean by mine barriers and devalue the naval base of Alexandria for the English by attacks from the air and by submarines.
The Italians have about 70 and the Germans about 25 submarines, while the British submarine forces only reach 25% of this number. While the British fleet will by necessity be further reduced, the Italian fleet will be at liberty to protect the convoys against surface units.  We expect that a reduction of the British fleet by 1 April will be the consequence, a point in time when the strength of the German air force in the Mediterranean will have reached its peak.
The RAF relocates planes to the Far East.  Officially 250 planes are currently foreseen for relocation.  The fighter force in this theatre considerably threatens the position of the British air force in the Middle East, and that at a point in time when it would be criminal neglicence to suppose that an air offensive of the Axis is not likely.

The document is signed by General von Rintelen, the German military attache and liaison officer  at Comando Supremo, in person.


Mediterrenean theatre, North Africa. Jagdgeschwader 53, Italian air force personnel posing before planes Messerschmidt Me 109. Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv.[1]


Regarding the information contained in the memo, I would think that the (albeit) rough assessment of RN sub strength active in the Mediterranean, as well as the results of the  air attacks onMalta (in particular the withdrawal of the Wellingtons) would have been of interest. Furthermore, the absence of a reference to any expected axis ground attack in Africa (which started two days later) and the reference to the supply problems the British had forward of Tobruk must have been valuable information, confirming the correct assessment of the situation by the Axis intelligence at the time. Finally I think the info on RAF withdrawals to the Far East is good information to have too. So I think there is a lot in what the meo says and does not say which would have been of great interest to an Axis intelligence officer.

Nevertheless, I would like to have a look at the actual plan of the Axis to reinforce the air strength in the Med. Also, I don’t think it is right that the Italians did not participate in Malta, and the number of 200 Me 109 active in Africa and Sicily in mid-January appears overstated to me.

There are clearly inaccuracies about the situation in the report, and it is indeed very pessimistic.  But what is astonishing is the amount of detail provided about the British situation in the Mediterranean.  I can not be certain of course, but I believe that this is the first time that a report by Colonel Bonner Fellers has appeared in full on the Internet.  This has been re-translated from German by me.  I think, given the phrasing, that the Germans were probably given the English original, not an Italian translation.

What is also astonishing is the wide circulation given to the report with the heading that it was an intercepted message and from whom it orginated.  Compare this to the treatment that was developed  to protect ULTRA on the Allied side. It is no wonder that the Good Source only lasted for little more than half a year to nine months, in my view.


[1]The planes are in fact one Me 109F and an Italian Macchi 202, and the picture shows very nice the similar form of the engine compartment of both planes. JG53 was a reinforcement unit sent in December 1941 to relieve the pressure on the Axis air forces in the Mediterrenean theatre.

13 thoughts on “The Good Source – Axis access to US Army Communications

  1. Dear “Good Source”,

    could you give me a hint please, where to find this and maybe more files of that kind in the NARA? I would be very grateful for that.

    Thx in advance


    • Dear Christian

      I wish I could help you. I believe the single copy I came across by accident in the Marine Oberkommando Sued files in NARA (would also be held in Freiburg) was there by accident and in violation of the rules. I doubt ti should ever have been filed there. I have heard that Marshall’s desktop files contain Bonner-Fellers’ reports, but of course that would not tell you which ones were intercepted. I looked into the captured files from Seebohm’s company held at TNA in Kew, but nothing there either.

      Sorry! Let me know if you find them!

      All the best



      • In kew I didnt find anything either, unfortunately. But thx for the hints, we will give it a try.



      • Good luck, and let me know if you find anything!

        I’ll trawl through MOK Sued the next few days, just in case I overlooked something.




  2. Pingback: US Mlitary Attache in Egypt inadvertantly advising Rommel of British Plans - World War 2 Talk

  3. Feller’s military master’s thesis was in psychology of the Japanese military. He was sent to play Rommel. The Free French Army’s and many Royal Navy, RAF and Army codes were broken before the Fall of France (and after), long before Feller’s reports. The British and Free French participated in the raids on the Nazi airfields in order to protect two Malta convoys. MI-5 discovered that a US State Department Code(s) (there was a Grey Code and a Black Code) was known to have been compromised before the US entered war by Tyler Kent a cypher clerk at the American Embassy. Oxford Companion to World War II. Other public cites omitted. The Italian Archives and selected British and American Archives remain closed.

    According to Lucio Ceva the Black Code and the Feller the episode …”does not seem… credible…. Probably this explanation was one of those cover stories not infrequent in matters where national security is involved.” Inter alia, Lucio Ceva .


  4. Feller’s Military Master’s thesis was on the psychology of the Japanese Infantryman. It is my believe that he was sent to play Rommel. In referring to the Feller-Black Code tale, Lucio Ceva writes …”Probably this explanation was one of those cover stories not infrequent in matters where national security is involved.” Oxford Companion to WW II pp 598


  5. Dear Andreas,
    I’d like to be in contact with you about this page, which is quite relevant to research I am doing. How can I get in touch?


  6. Pingback: Some more on the Air Attacks on Convoy Operation MF3, 16 – 19 January 1942 – The Crusader Project

  7. Pingback: How surprising were the M3 Grant tanks to the Germans? – The Crusader Project

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