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Intelligence Section OKW
Amtes Ausland/Abwehr

In February 1938 the Reich War Ministry was abolished a new over-all Armed Forces authority, known as the High Command of the Armed Forces -- Oberkommando der Wehrmacht -- usually known by the initials OKW. Coordination of all Armed Forces matters was vested in the OKW, which was in effect Hitler's personal staff for these matters. The Air Force as well as the Army and the Navy was subordinated to OKW. The army and naval staffs were designated "High Commands" -- Oberkommando des Heeres and Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine, from which derive the initials by which they are usually known (OKH and OKM). The Air Force did not receive the official designation of Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) until 1944

The Abbwehr was the OKW's intelligence agency [its name deriving from the compound of ab-, meaning away or off, and -wehr, meaning defense]. Abwehr responsibilities covered the full spectrum of intelligence activities, ranging from making reconnaissance flights over Poland and England prior to the Polish campaign to prevention of sabotage and nuisance activity carried out by commandos, and operating very active sabotage organizations behind the enemy front.

The Abwehr achieved a number of striking successes in their operations against the Allies. Operation North Pole started with the arrest two Dutch underground agents infiltrated from England. The Abwehr succeeded in contacting the agents' British headquarters, and passing themselves off as being the agents. For two years the Germans maintained this deception, capturing successive waves of agents as soon as they landed on the continent.

On 31 March 1941 Keitel, at Hitler's behest, issued the first of a number of directives to the Wehrmacht on the 'Treatment of Political and Military Russian Officials.' This, which came to be known as the 'Commissar Order,'The Commissar Order undermined the task of the counterintelligence officers of the Abwehr who were responsible for extracting information from Soviet prisoners of war and enlisting intelligence agents. In mid-September, when there were already 1.5 million men in the camps, and more pouring in every day, Admiral Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, made an attempt to have the order rescinded. Since he knew that any appeal on humanitarian grounds would simply harden Hitler's resolve, he based his argument on German self-interest. Canaris argued [to no avail] that "the will to resist of the enemy troops will be extremely strengthened by the enemy intelligence service.... Instead of taking advantage of the tensions among the populations of the occupied territories for the benefit of the German administration, the mobilization of all internal opposition forces of Russia for unified hostility will be facilitated."

Canaris was conviced that his failure to prevent the attack on Poland would mean the end of Germany. A triumph of the Nazi system would mean an even greater disaster, and it was the purpose of General Canaris to prevent this. Canaris deliberately manipulated his own operations to aid the Allied cause [and was thought by some to be an agent of British intelligence]. The Abwehr failed to provide the German military with information on the Anglo-American landing in North Africa.

Canaris during the first years of the war laid great stress on good relations with the SS and the necessity for close co-operation with the SS. But the Abwher department was abolished by Himmler in February 1944, and its operations were integrated into the SS intelligence service to destroy what had become a hotbed for dissent against the Fuhrer [Oskar Schindler, of the movie Schindler's List, joined the Abwehr in late 1938]. The Abwehr was in fact the center of the July 1944 conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, in the wake of which Admiral Canaris was hanged on 09 April 1945, hours before Allied forces entered the area.

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Page last modified: 28-07-2011 00:52:45 ZULU