The Zimmermann Telegram – Part Three

In 1917 Arthur Zimmermann, the German Foreign Minister, sent an explosive telegram to the German Ambassador in Mexico which was picked up and decoded by the British who passed it on to the Americans. The repercussions of this helped get the USA into WW1 on the Allied side, something the Germans were desperate to avoid. This final part deals with the German activities around the telegram. Unaware that the British had the keys to their encipherment, the Germans kept sending telegrams using the same code and thereby kept on digging. Even today there are still stories that this telegram was a fake invented by the British. There is no doubt we would have been capable of faking it but the admission by Arthur Zimmermann in the Reichstag that it was true should, by now, have put all that to bed.

Arthur Zimmermann sent his infamous telegram to Mexico. Nowhere is it stated that he decided this on his own or that he had agreement from at least the Chancellor. It is unthinkable that he should come up with this idea and pursue it with no reference to his boss. However, send it he did with the unintended consequence that he undid all he had tried to do.

The USA did not entirely trust the British, and why should they, but they were convinced when the British admitted they had the German codebooks and allowed a signals office from the US Embassy to actually decode it himself. The worth of this to the British can only be imagined, they had released the secret that they had the German codebook in the hope that the USA would enter the war on the Allies side. The British then agreed to the contents of the telegram being made public on condition that the source was not revealed. It was picked up in Mexico was the ruse they used.

While the Americans were releasing the telegram, von Eckhart the Ambassador in Mexico was reporting back to Berlin on the results of his negotiations with the Mexican President Corranza. The Mexicans were not averse to this plan and would look upon it with benevolence. Just after this report, von Eckhart found out that the contents of the telegram had been betrayed and he publicly denied everything while simultaneously blaming either a courier or betrayal of the cipher to his people in Berlin.

Berlin then cabled von Eckhart telling him to burn all compromising evidence and to spread the word that the alliance was only to come into effect in case of America’s entrance into the war. Having himself denied it, he was told that Berlin had admitted it, such things never happen these days do they.

Head Office then sent various cables asking for details of how the betrayed cable had been safeguarded in Mexico, they were looking for the mole. There were several messages between Mexico and Berlin trying to find out who could have betrayed them, eventually Berlin came to believe that no blame attached to von Eckhart.

Negotiations were still underway with Corranza so then came telegrams about what ammunition was needed and which ports it could be shipped to. As well as discussing with the President, the Germans were also in contact with two revolutionaries, one of whom was Pancho Villa and were also supplying them with ammunition. Talk about hedging your bets. Naturally all of these telegrams were being read by the British and then passed on to Washington.

Between mid January and the end of April 1917, 60 telegrams were exchanged between Zimmermann and von Eckhart mostly discussing the deal with the Mexicans. President Wilson saw all of them. It has to be assumed that the US declaration of war on Germany on 6 April 1917 was heavily influenced by this plot.

Even after the declaration of war, the Germans were still trying to get their deal with the Mexicans working. Sums of money were sent and then some of them disappeared with telegrams notifying of delivery and other requesting details of where they money had gone to. How very Mexican.

The story of the Lusitania sinking, one of the other acts that encouraged America’s entry into the war, is an altogether different kettle of fish, but the Zimmermann telegram most certainly did exist.

© well_chuffed 2018

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