The Innards of Intelligence II–Intercepted Radio Messages

Much ink has been spilled over the famous 3./N56 (3rd company, Corps Signals Battalion 56), under the command of Captain Seebohm, Rommel’s radio interception company.  I have below appended an actual intercept note, and translated it. Every day there would have been a number of these, which were submitted to the Ic (Staff Officer Intelligence) of Panzergruppe Afrika, and which he used to build the intelligence picture of the enemy’s position, situation, and intent. While relevant information seems to have been passed on immediately, it was also neatly typed up and comments were added (in brackets) based on previous intel results.The example below is of this variety. I am guessing these were handed into the Ic once or twice a day.

The ability to break Empire troop codes and the relative lack of discipline of Empire troop signallers, made it relatively easy to assemble orders of battle, and be well informed about the other side of the hill. You can find a short overview of the history of this unit at this link (note where it refers to FAK621, this would have been 3./N56 in 1941).


17 Jan 42 Received 15.00 hours
Intercepted Radio Message from 3.N.56
RASC Company of 2nd Armoured Brigade to Supply Officer 11.15 Hours
8th Field Regiment (formerly 1st Army Tank Brigade) and 2n S.A. AT Rgt. (formerly Gialo Group) are now with the Brigade. I have ammunition for 8th Field Regiment but not yet for 2nd S.A. AT Rgt.

Panzergruppe Intelligence Assessment 15 January 1942

1. Enemy Behaviour on 15 January 1942

Along the whole front lively reconnaissance activity and weak artillery fire on most forward strongpoints in the sector Mn. Belcleibat – Mersa el Brega. The reconnaissance battalion east of Burruei (12th Lancers) received reinforcements from the area Mn. Bettafal during the day. According to air reconnaissance at and west of Gr. es Sahabi 120 vehicles established. This could be a reconnaissance battalion from E-Force (before Gialo Group). DIvisional command 1st Armoured Division according to radio reconnaissance area Agedabia. According to aerial reconnaissance 2nd Armoured Brigade also confirmed in that area. Overall enemy grouping as yesterday.

2. Halfaya Front

Continued heavy artillery fire by land and naval forces and continuation of air attacks.

Panzergruppe Intelligence Assessment 13 January 1942

Enemy Behaviour 13 January 1942

The British 13 Corps brought up the rear elements of its formations via Giof el Matar – Agedabia in a southwesterly direction. It’s situation is as follows in the evening: 7th Rifle Brigade astride track Mn. Bettafal – B. es Suera. 22nd Guards Brigade with mass in area Rta. el Gtafia – Mn. Tabilba – B. en Ginn, a weaker group southwest B. en Ginn facing southwest. Along the whole front no combat contact thus far apart from reconnaissance activity and weak artillery fire. Mass 2nd Armoured Brigade and 1st Rifle Brigade apparently in area Giof el Matar – Agedabia – el Haselat. In area Mn. Burruei enemy reconnaissance unit, otherwise south Uadi Faregh no enemy movement.

Overall impression: An enemy attack has to be expected shortly with focus at and south B. es Suera, while simultaneously advancing on both sides of the Via Balbia.

Halfaya Front:

On 12 January Lower Sollum was lost after a tough fight, few strongpoints still holding out. On the remainder of the Halfaya Front artillery activity.

Panzergruppe Intel Assessment 14 January 1942

1. Enemy Behaviour 14 January 1942

Enemy grouping as previous day. Active combat reconnaissance by both sides at and southwest of B. es Suera. The reconnaissance unit in the area Burruei was, according to aerial reconnaissance, reinforced by a further 200 vehicles – brought up on the treck Mn. Bettafal – Burruei. This column suffered considerable losses due to repeated air attacks. The 1st Armoured Division in the area of Giof el Matar – Agedabia – el Haselat received, according to aerial reconnaissance, further reinforcements from the areas of Antelat and Saunnu.

Overall impression: enemy appears to prepare himself for a planned attack.

2. Details

22 Guards Brigade from 14 January renamed 200 Guards Brigade. At Marada 1 Captain and 1 man of the Long Range Desert Group captured during reconnaissance 4km east of Marada.

The Innards of Intelligence – Luftwaffe Aerial Recce Report 12 January 1942

I thought readers might be interested to see original Axis material on which the intel reports were built. So here is a Fliegermeldung, an aerial recce report, in all its glory. The cognoscenti will recognise this as a NARA copy. If you click on the picture, it should load it in all its glory.

The example here was a message dropped at the command post from the air, in order to expedite delivery. It would have been followed by a full report based on the interpretation of the pictures taken. But this would of course have taken some time, and not been available until hours later. Dropping messages from the air was a relatively standard way of delivering timely intelligence to German ground units.


So, what does it say? From the top:

Submitted Fliegermeldung
Reporting unit: Crew Ju 88 – 7A+GH* 1st Report
Location: air drop
Date: 12 Jan 1942
Time 14.15 hours
Pilot: Feldwebel** Weger
Observer:Flight Feldwebel*** Schlesier
Path: Take off: 12.20 Arco – Uadi Faregh – Trigh el Abd – Tengeder – el Hacheim – Mechili – Msus – Arco
Received: Ic 12 Jan 1942 19.00 hours
To: Panzergruppe
Map used 1:1,000,000
Task: Eye and photo reconnaissance in area outlined above
12.45 4,500 m Around Giofer about 20 vehicle stopped
12.50 5,000 m Just north Belcleibat in Uadi el Faregh 2-3 vehicles stopped
13.45 6,500 m Just north Tengeder about 5 vehicles stopped
14.00 7,000 m Northern edge of el Hacheim 80 – 100 vehicles stopped
14.50 7,500 m Around el Mechili about 20 vehicles stopped
15.10/15.?5 8,000 m on track Bir Belhamed – Msus about 50 vehicles, driving west
15.40 8,000 m Airfield Msus occupied by about 40 planes, single- and 2-engined
Weather no clouds, visibility 100 km Light good
Defense None

* 7A was the unit code for 1./(F)121, a long-range reconnaissance unit equipped with Junkers 88D-1, the long-range recce version of the Ju 88. GH was the plane identifier. Since the plane was based at Arco dei Fileni air field, it is likely that it was part of the Afrika Kette, a small group of recce planes permanently based in North Africa, while the remainder of 1./(F)121 was based in Sicily on 12 Jan 1942, at Catania, participating in the assault on Malta (see here).

A less fortunate sister of GH can be seen below:

Junkers Ju88 7A LH 1(F) 121 Africa, from

** RAF equivalent rank: Sergeant, US Army Air Force equivalent rank: Staff Sergeant

*** This is the first time I note an NCO observer, they normally seem to have been officers.

Panzergruppe Intel Assessment 12 January 1942

1. Enemy Behaviour 12 January 1942

Also today along the whole front strong enemy reconnaissance activity. Most southerly reconnaissance unit at Mn. Burruei (reconnaissance squadron Gialo group). 7th Rifle Brigade at and north of Uadi Faregh, and 22nd Guards Brigade astride the Via Balbia pushed their most forward elements to about a line 10km west of Mn. Bettafal – Mn. el Gefera – M. Cabilba. Command 7th Rifle Brigade 10km west-south-west Mn. el Mensci, 22nd Guards Brigade Rta. el Gtafia. According to radio reconnaissance 1st Armoured Division with 2nd Armoured Brigade and 1st Rifle Brigade in area Saunnu – Msus – Antelat – Giof el Matar. It appears to continue to have severe supply problems. Aerial reconnaissance reports no movements on track Marada – Gialo – Sahabi, Tirgh el Abd, track Mechili – Msus. From area Solluch 250 vehicles on Via Balbia driving to Agedabia.

Overall impression: further forces other than 1st Armoured Division have not yet arrived at 13 Corps, 1st Armoured Division apparently not yet completely ready for action. Nevertheless it is possible that an advance of the 7th and 22nd Brigades, reinforced by 1 – 2 tank companies, will take place in a southwesterly direction.

2. Halfaya Front

Opponent continues his heavy attacks on Lower Sollum. After repeated attacks he succeeded in gaining possession of some defensive positions in Lower Sollum. At other points the attack was successfully repulsed.

Panzergruppe Intel Assessment 16 January 1942

Enemy Behaviour 16 January 1942

Along the whole front only weak enemy patrol activity. According to radio reconnaissance one battle group each of 200 Guards Brigade 10km NW B. es Suera, just north B. el Ginn, 5km south Bu Grada, and command in area Alem Zogba. 1st Armoured Division has supply problems. Aerial reconnaissance could not be tasked due to dust storm.