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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 started. 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, the German supreme commander, or Führer, Adolf Hitler replaced the Ministry of War by the Ober­kommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) 2 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 this Enigma variant is often referred to as the Abwehr Enigma. 3 Towards the end of the war, the Abwehr introduced the new SG-41 cipher machine – nicknamed Hitlermuhle 4 – which was intended to replace the Enigma. It came too late however.

  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.
  4. Hitlermuhle = Hitler mill.

Abwehr equipment on this website
Abwehr 20W base station transmitter S-87/20
Abwehr 5W transmitter
Abwehr base station transmitter S-90/40
Abwehr spy radio set SE-98/3
Abwehr spy radio set SE-108/10 and SE-100/11
Abwehr spy radio set SE-109/3
Siemens R-IV (R4) wartime intercept receiver
Radione R3 receiver
Radione RS-20/M transmitter
Zählwerk Enigma (Enigma G and Abwehr Enigma)

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

Cipher equipment used by the Abwehr
History of Abwehr radios
By Rudolf F. Staritz

During WWII, Rudolf F. Staritz worked at the drawing room of the Abwehr, during which time many of the designs and circuit diagrams of Abwehr radio sets crossed his path. Despite the confidentiality of the work and the risk of getting caught, he managed to duplicate many of the circuit diagrams – some as photocopies, but mostly by memorizing them – and take them home.

Around 1985, he bundled the circuit diagrams – together with unique photographic material – into an elaborate manuscript, with the intention to have it published. But despite the fact that his work revealed a hitherto undescribed piece of history, he was unable to find a good publisher.

In the following years, parts of the manuscript were published in the German magazine Funk (1985, 1987, 1988 and 1989), and also in two chapters of Volume 2 of Fritz Trenkle's book Die deutschen Funknachrichtenanlagen bis 1945 [4]. The manuscript was also given to individuals.
Click to see more

In July 2016, Dutch collector Arthur Bauer first published the manuscript on the internet — with permission from Staritz — making it available to a wider audience. Unfortunately the quality of the photographs was not too good as the original photographs were no longer available. As a result they had to settle for low-quality photocopies, which was better than having nothing at all.

In 2017, Norbert Dotzel from Germany took up the initiative to re-typeset Staritz' manuscript with a modern word processor, and replace the photographs by better quality originals, most of which had meanwhile been rediscovered. The result – which is completely searchable – became available in June 2018 and is available for download below. Besides a few minor corrections, the manuscript is largely unaltered and still reflects the state-of-play of the mid-1980s [3].

 Download the new release of the manuscript
 Information about this publication
 About Rudolf Staritz

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. At this point, the Abwehr was absorbed into the RSHA.

Main communication centres
  • Berlin
    codename: Burg (also known as Schloss and Palais)
  • Hamburg
    codename: Hafen
  • Wien (Vienna)
    codename: Wera
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. Abwehrfunk - Funkabwehr, Technik und Verfahren der Spionagefunkdienste
    Rudolf F. Staritz. Unpublished book manuscript, mid-1985.
    Re-edited edition, April 2018. Version 22 June 2018. 1
     Publication details
  1. Typeset by Norbert Dotzler. Obtained via Arthur Bauer (Foundation for German Communication).

  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.

  3. Rudolf Staritz, Abwehrfunk - Funkabwehr
    Mid-1985. Updated and re-released 22 June 2018 [A].
     About Rudolf Staritz

  4. Fritz Trenkle, Die deutschen Funknachrichtenanlagen bis 1945
    Band 2 - Der zweite Weltkrieg (Volume 2 - World War II).
    ISBN 3-7785-203-2. 1990.
Further information
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© Crypto Museum. Created: Thursday 11 August 2016. Last changed: Sunday, 11 December 2022 - 09:55 CET.
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