Book Review: The Third Reich is Listening: Inside German Codebreaking, 1939–45


by Christian Jennings

Oxford &BNew York: Osprey Publishing, 2018. Pp. 352+. Illus., chron., gloss., notes, biblio., index. $32.00. ISBN: 1472829506

The German Side of the Cryptographic War

While the story of Allied signals intelligence and cryptography has been well covered, in this work British journalist and author Jennings gives us the first comprehensive look at the German side of the code war. The book is divided into four parts.

The first part covers Germany’s poor showing in signals intelligence and cryptography during World War I, and the development of a more vigorous approach during the Weimar Republic. The second part covers developments during the early Nazi regime, 1933-1939. The third and fourth parts cover World War II, roughly divided into the period of German ascendance (1939-1942) and then that of the Allied counter offensive (1942-1945).

Jennings includes a lot of technical detail on signals intelligence, coding, ciphering, and the breaking of codes and ciphers, using clear examples and simple explanations. He offers profiles of many of the people involved in this work, both German and British, and even others. While his primary concerns are the Germans and British, Jennings touches on the operations of the other Great Powers, of course, but also Spain, Norway, Switzerland, Romania, and others.

Jennings argues, effectively, that the Germans often had the upper hand in intelligence, particularly early in the war, but that the Allied efforts, notably those of the British, were much better organized. As is generally the case in dictatorial regimes, he points out that Germany suffered from fragmented intelligence services plagued by rivalry and suspicion, and a leadership – notably Hitler and the top level Nazis – that preferred not to listen to bad news.

This is a fine look at the intelligence war, as Jennings not only shows the reader the action on what might be called the intelligence front, but often takes his account into combat – land, sea, and air – so the reader sees the practical results of success or failure in signals intelligence and cryptography by the various nations and how it affected the war effort of both major powers and several smaller ones.

Although there are some minor errors in military terminology on which nit pickers will focus, The Third Reich is Listening is a very important read for anyone interested in the Second World War or the craft of intelligence.


Note: The Third Reich is Listening is also available in several e-editions

StrategyPage reviews are shared with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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