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German Intelligence and Security Service 1920-1944 - this page is a stub

The Abwehr (English: Defence) was a German military organisation which existed from 1920 to 1944. Although the Germans were not allowed to form their own intelligence organisation, as a result of the Treaty of Versailles 1 following WWI, they secretly established an espionage group within the German Ministry of Defence in 1920. The initial purpose of the Abwehr was to defend against foreign espionage, but this later evolved into domestic and foreign information gathering.

In 1929, under General Kurt von Schleicher, the existing military service intelligence units were combined and placed under his Ministry of Defence, basically forming the foundation of the Abwehr. The organisation had offices in every army district, but also in some neutral countries and in the occupied territories once the war had begun. Most of the information gathering was done by means of human intelligence (HUMINT).

On 1 January 1935, (then) Vice-Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was given command of the Abwehr. In June 1938, German Führer Adolf Hitler replaced the Ministry of War with the Ober­kommando der Wehrmacht 2 (OKW), and made the Abwehr, under Canaris, part of his personal working staff.

 Canaris on Wikipedia
Vice-Admiral Wilhelm Canaris

During WWII, the Abwehr played an important role in international espionage, with agents in every corner of the world, gathering information and reporting it to OKW in Berlin by means of so-called spy radio sets. Most of these spy radio sets were developed especially for the Abwehr.

In order to keep the contents of their messages secret, the Abwehr used a variety of manual and machine-based ciphers. For traffic between OKW and foreign outstations, e.g. in Argentina, the Abwehr used the Enigma G31, which is why it is commonly referred to as the Abwehr Enigma. 3

  1. After Germany lost World War One, the Treaty of Versailles was signed to confirm peace and to prevent Germany from developing a military (assault) organisation and high-end technology. → Wikipedia
  2. OKW = Supreme Command of the Armed Forces.
  3. The Enigma G was also used by other countries such as Hungary and The Netherlands.

Abwehr equipment on this website
Abwehr 20W base station transmitter S-87/20 Abwehr base station transmitter S-90/40 Abwehr spy radio set SE-98/3 Abwehr spy radio set SE-109/3 Siemens R-IV (R4) wartime intercept receiver Radione R3 receiver
Zählwerk Enigma (Enigma G and Abwehr Enigma)

 Complete overview of Abwehr spy radio sets
 Overview of Enigma cipher machine models

Chiefs of the Abwehr
  • 1921-1927
    Colonel Friedrich Gempp
  • 1927-1929
    Major Günther Schwantes
  • 1929-1932
    Lieutenant-Colonel Ferdinand von Bredow
  • 1932-1935
    Rear Admiral Konrad Patzig
  • 1935-1944
    Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (from 1938 onwards head of the organisation)
  • 1944-1945
    Walter Schellenberg 1
  1. Schellenberg was Brigadier General (Generalmajor) of Police and SS Brigadeführer.

Before the reorganisation of the OKW in 1938, the Abwehr was merely a department within the Reichswehrministerium (the German Ministry of Defence). However, after Canaris had been appointed as head of the Abwehr in 1938, the organisation grew in size and importance, and went from less than 150 to nearly 1000 staff [1]. From then on, it was organised as follows:

  1. Central Division
    This department handled personnel, financial matters (including payment of agents) and controlled the other two departments (described below). The Central Division is also known as Abteilung 'Z' (department 'Z') or Die Zentrale (the Centre). During the tenure of Canaris, Abteilung 'Z' was headed by Generalmajor Hans Oster.

  2. Foreign Branch
    This department was known as Amtsgruppe Ausland and later also as Foreign Intelligence Group. It had the following tasks:

    1. Liaison with OKW and general staffs of the services,
    2. Coordination with German Foreign Ministry on military matters,
    3. Evaluation of captured documents and evaluation of foreign press and broadcasts.

  3. Abwehr
    The third division was oficially labelled counter-intelligence branch, but was in reality an intelligence gathering organisation. It was subdivided into several divisions (see below).
The actual Abwehr (department 3) was divided in the following subdivisions:

  1. Intelligence
  2. Sabotage
  3. Counter-intelligence
Each of these subdivisions where further divided into the following areas:

I. Intelligence
  • G
    False documents, photos, inks, passports, chemicals
  • H West
    Fremde Heere West (Army West, Anglo-American Army Intelligence)
  • H Ost
    Fremde Heere Ost (Army East, Soviet Army Intelligence)
  • Ht
    Technical Army Intelligence
  • I
    Communications (design of wireless sets, wireless operators)
  • K
    Computer/cryptanalysis operations
  • L
    Air intelligence (Luftwaffe)
  • M
    Naval intelligence (Marine)
  • T/lw
    Technical air intelligence
  • Wi
    Economic intelligence
  • T
    Technical intelligence 1
II. Sabotage
  • Direction of covert contacts
  • Exploitation of discontented minority groups in foreign countries
  • Brandenburg Regiment 2
III. Counter-intelligence
  • III C
    Civilian Authority bureau
  • III C-2
    Espionage cases bureau
  • III D
    Disinformation bureau
  • III F
    Counter-espionage agents bureau
  • III N
    Postal bureau
  1. Attachment to Abwehr I.
  2. Attachment to Abwehr II, offshoot of Gruppe II-T (technical intelligence).

Abwehrstelle   Ast
The Abwehr commonly placed a local station in each Wehrkreis (military district) in Germany. Such a local station was known as Abwehrstelle, commonly abbreviated to Ast. In most cases, an Ast was subdivided in the usual way:

  1. Intelligence
  2. Sabotage
  3. Counter-intelligence
  1. Wikipedia, Abwehr
    Retrieved August 2016.

  2. Arthur Bauer, Some Aspects of the German military Abwehr wireless service...
    ...during the course of World War Two
    15 September 2003.
Further information
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© Crypto Museum. Created: Thursday 11 August 2016. Last changed: Tuesday, 15 May 2018 - 07:17 CET.
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