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 Posted Friday, March 19, 2004

David Irving David Irving explains, Friday, March 19, 2004:

The Luftwaffe Raid on Coventry, November 14, 1940: In 1974 the British Government had lifted the embargo on The Ultra Secret, and Frederick Winterbotham, the RAF Intelligence officer attached to Bletchley Park, was permitted to publish his book of that name. In about 1983 the Government began to release piecemeal documents and files from which the real background story could be pieced together. With the release to the public archives of the logbook of RAF Fighter Command it became plain that Mr Churchill had prior warning of about eighty percent of the Luftwaffe air raids on London, either from Ultra intelligence (theyhad solved the Luftwaffe's operational Enigma cipher), or from beams intelligence (locating over which city the X-Gerät blind-bombing beams were intersecting from late afternoon onwards, for calibration purposes), or from other sources. The odd episode involving the prime minister's behaviour on the night of the Luftwaffe Raid on Coventry could now be re-assessed (see my "Churchill's War", vol. i: "Struggle for Power", published in 1987). I conducted a rambling inquiry with surviving members of the British Intelligence community, and opened this dossier.

The Coventry Raid

Status: March 28, 84



Note on a Conversation with Prof R.V. Jones, FRS, at ca 3 pm in Selfridges, London W1 [March 28, 1984]

WE met by chance. I mentioned the Coventry draft to him. He insists that he is right and Fred Winterbotham's memory is wrong. He says that the first warning was given by the Air Staff at 4:15 p.m. to the commands, and even then it did not go out as the flimsies are still in the Air Staff file, unsent, filling in the gaps subsequently. He suggests that the "three o'clock" claim made by the later action report was window dressing out of hindsight, a cover-up.

Against this version, I told him of the John Martin diary entry, "No.10. False start for Ditchley. 'The moonlight sonata': The raid was on Coventry."

Winterbotham wrote (TLS, [Times Literary Supplement], Jun 25, 1976) that it was not true that Churchill deliberately sacrified the city to avoid compromising Ultra. On November 14 [1940] he [Winterbotham] sent over in the usual blue van to No. 10 the "red box" containing the Ultra signal giving the target for that night as "Coventry" en clair, perhaps done at Bletchley as a result of lower grade information. In the evening, Winterbotham went to his cottage west of London and counted the bombers passing overhead.


Copy of a letter from Gp Capt F.W. Winterbotham to David Irving, January 13, 1984

Churchill, Brendan Bracken, 1940YES, I think you have got it right about Coventry but there are a few points which might want a little adjustment.

It was Brendan Bracken [right, behind Churchill] who persuaded WSC to leave London against his will. I did not know WSC had appointments that afternoon. He generally rested until about 3 p.m.

One of the signals giving orders (beams etc) for the raid on London, around 12th Nov I think contained also instructions "to abort the London target and transfer to one of the Midlands targets on receipt of a special code word." The signal with the special codeword was received at Bletchley around 1:55 p.m. on 14th. This signal was not given to Jones for a very good reason which I will not put on paper. Hence [RV] Jones' persistent lie that no one knew about Coventry. It was the 1:55 signal which was phoned to me by Humphries soon after 2 pm. Bletchley had worked out the beam angles to cover Coventry, however Air Ministry wished to be absolutely certain before alerting Commands and the PM, and started a search for the X-Gerät beam. This was found over Coventry by 3 p.m.

I had an agreement with the Chief of Staff always to allow them time to study urgent and important Ultra signals before sending them over to No.10.

I think you will find the official timing given to the Inquiry on Coventry when Commands were informed was 3 p.m., not 4.

I understood (from [Churchill's secretary John] Martin) that they left London soon after 3 p.m. and were overtaken by the despatch rider in Kensington. It seems probable both my own signal which had been simplified (leaving out coordinates etc) and the official note from CAS, both confirming Coventry as the target, were in the envelope.

It was my job to select each day which important signals should go to the PM. My officer (Humphries) in my "Hut 3" at Bletchley where all signals were translated and strictly distributed sent me down a selection each morning (or by phone if urgent). I then selected what the PM needed to know and they went over to No.10 in a yellow box. Sometimes when he was at Ditchley or Chequers I would phone. Menzies [Brigadier Sir Stuart Menzies, "C", head of the British Intelligence Service] saw all signals before they went over. All these signals which bore my initials in red were then initialled by Churchill together with any action he wished taken, or comments, and returned to me at Broadway [Intelligence headquarters] where they were stored. They are a vital piece of history but every effort to locate them has been met with a blank. I have little doubt the Official Historians are sitting on them, and that PRO [Public Records Office, now British National Archives] will never see them. I made a rule that none of these signals which came from Bletchley to Broadway should leave that office (except to WSC). I think only Jones disobeyed this order. I had to write The Ultra Secret without records.

[. . .]

Personally, I always found WSC courteous and helpful. But then we were giving him his life blood on which he ran the war single handed until the advent of Eisenhower in 1942. I was interested to read that he had taken Dowding's side and asked CAS to give him a job. My old friend Jack Slessor let me read the account of the Leigh-Mallory affair. Quite disgraceful.

Yrs Fred Winterbotham



Copy of a letter from Gp Capt F.W. Winterbotham to David Irving, January 23, 1984

As regards the interception of WSC's car en route for Ditchley. This was from a letter from John Martin to a colleague of mine. But I have certainly seen it referred to in print. I think in The [Daily] Telegraph, and I am sure Jean Howard [of Hut 3] could corroborate this. I enclose a letter from "Mike" Clayton who was one of the principal liaison officers (WAAF) between Bletchley and Chick.Sands intercept station. You will find it all in her book The Enemy is Listening. Alas she died last year.

She told me R.V. Jones did everything he could to prevent her writing about the "Mond Mond" signal changing the target from London to "Korn" (Coventry). Please return the letter.

In a minute on November 12, [1940] D.H.O. [Air Ministry, Directorate of Home Operations] (D.F. Stevenson) wrote to the D.C.A.S. [Deputy Chief of Air Staff] recommending possible counter action. He suggested that the damage to London or Birmingham was likely to be serious, and casualties high. "In consequence we should remember that the best way of turning COLD WATER on an operation of this kind from the point of John Citizen is to hit back at a similarly important area in Germany as hard as we can." Whistles were being fitted to the bombs for this attack.


Pertinent extracts from letter of R.V. Jones, March 27th, 1984.

He sends me the MOONLIGHT SONATA decrypt which [Sir Frank] Hinsley [Official Historian of British Intelligence] had sent to him just as their vol. i appeared.

Points out that D.H.O. implied in his report of November 14 that he sent the executive order COLD WATER between 1300 and 1500 hrs, when in fact it went at 16:15 hrs. Thus 3 hrs 15 mins between indication that the raid was on and his first telegram. There could have been a comparable delay (and probably greater) in establishing the target. Asks why D.H.O. did not mention Coventry in his handwritten minute of November 14. "It would have been the most important item of information of the whole lot," particularly since the Pro Forma telegram could not (as I point out) be used.


"I admire the ingenuity of your hypothesis, but D.H.O.'s hindsight is now even more questionable, and all the other evidence of to me ... points the other way."

The MOONLIGHT SONATA decrypt: CX/JO/444 of November 11, 1940:

"Source saw following secret instructions issued by the Senior Signals Officer, Fliegerkorps 1 and dated 1400 9/11/40:"

etc. This gave in para 1: "W/T data for KG.100 for MOONLIGHT SONATA." and talked about Target Areas 1, 2, 3, and 4. "KG100 will give the tuning-signal at 1300 hours on day of operation, to be repeated at 1315 hours by Luftflotte 3, callsign D3R."

Slightly less reliably deciphered was the final paragraph:

"In case the attack is not to take place on account of the weather report from KG100" Ob.d.L's main W/T station would transmit codegroup MOND MOND three times; "five minutes after the signal MOND MOND the Knickebein beacons [i.e., X-Gerät] will be shifted on to alternative targets."

[Source file: CX/JO/444 of 11 Nov 40: Annex 1 to Appendix A of WHAT?]


In letter to Aileen Clayton on Sep 1, 1980, Jones suggests her memory was at fault as to the date of the Mond Mond signal.

"This is just possible " he says, quoting a source not available to me. "There were no instructions for KG 100 on 13 November other than to prepare for operations from 1700 which were canceled at 1520 no target was mentioned in the signals involved. On the night of 12 November KGr100 did prepare for attacks on targets No. 34 (Liverpool) and No. 49 (Coventry) and these attacks were carried out. . . A normal KG 100 operation."

In her reply (Sep 4, 1980) Mrs Clayton admits doubts as to her memory of the date. "Budge's of Kingsdown recollection is that he was specifically asked when he visited the Air Ministry to listen for the MOND MOND signal as that would indicate the major raid was on."


Wing Commander Oscar Oeser wrote to Jean Howard on Apr 12, 1975: "I do remember REGENSCHIRM. This was obviously going to be a large operation. The code name made me think it must be Birmingham (Chamberlain's umbrella.) But no, A.I. [Air Intelligence] decided it must be London, and all nightfighters and firebrigades concentrated down there. On the night, about midnight, I was on leave in Cambridge, when an endless stream of bombers came over. I feared the worst, couldn't sleep, and went down to the kitchen to brew a cuppa. My hostess heard me tinkling, she'd been awakened by the bombers too and came down. She saw I was upset and perturbed, but I couldn't tell her why, so we put it down to strain of overwork. That was the night of Coventry."


... on this website:

Our new website dossier on Churchill
Diane Mehta asks what really happened at Coventry in 1940
Website note: Churchill's monthly desk calendars for the war years September 1939-1945 are available as a service to historians on CD Rom in pdf format for $50 from Focal Point Publications, 36 Hertford St, London W1J 7SE
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