I do not think that the British had broken the German Code that was used to control their Armed Merchant Raiders

November 13, 2011

Hello Mac,

Herewith is the email from our Chapter member Father Michael Head. I have told him that you will reply to him direct.

Thanks Mac
Frank Cronin

Dear Frank

Can you please pass on to Mac Gregory a question I have about his excellent piece on the German raiders.

The question is this. It is often said that the British never broke the code used by the surface raiders and that seems

Pinguin did not know Cornwall was nearby and the handling of its attack on the merchant ship was not well  executed.

The only other raider in the first wave sunk was Atlantis while refuelling a submarine.  The British did from time to time at least, break the U-boat codes and therefore might well have found Atlantis from the U-boats directions as they did for a lot of German tankers during those months.

Question therefore is, did the British know they had sunk the Atlantis or did they presume they had just sunk another tanker.

Atlantis did not fire a shot. Just wondering.

All the ships in the second wave were sunk (or crippled in the case of Togo/Coronel) but none of them can be put down to the British cracking the surface raider codes. Hence the Atlantis question.


Hello Michael,

Thank you for your kind words about my German Merchant Raiders article.

I do not think that the British had broken the German Code that was used to control their Armed Merchant Raiders.

The Captain of Dorsetshire who sank Atlantis did not think he had sunk a German tanker, but a Naval Supply ship.

After Atlantis had sunk, Dorsetshire did not hang around but took off at high speed, but in my view she had no idea that the vessel sunk was the highly successful Atlantis.

If the German codes were known to the British they would most certainly have cleaned them all up much more  quickly than they did. They had to rely on chance meetings with a raider, or happening to be close to a merchant ship's distress call after being attacked by a German Merchant Raider.

All in all its a fascinating subject, with the German ships accounting for about 800,000 tons of Allied shipping, a better resultthan their surface warships ever achieved.

Best wishes,

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