The Zimmermann Telegram – Part Two

well_chuffed, Going Postal

In August 1914 just after the Germans occupied Brussels , a German officer took up his billet in an aristocratic villa in the Brussels suburbs. The villa belonged to the family Czek. The following day the son, Alexander Czek, an engineer by trade, announced himself to the officer and asked for a brief interview. He then related that he had built a radio sending and receiving set that he was not using but was ready for operation. He wanted to bring this to the attention of the authorities so he would not be suspected of espionage. At this time the Germans were short of radio equipment and when a Lieutenant Colonel, a signals officer, visited to inspect the set he recognised that it was a brand new type of receiver with an extraordinarily wide wave band that worked without complicated switching.

They dismantled the set and took it to their HQ and that was that. Some weeks later there was some trouble with the Germans’ own apparatus, someone remembered Alexander so they called him in and he fixed the problem. The radio set was used for sending and receiving Army message and when not busy, intercepting enemy messages. There was a dearth of radio equipment and none was devoted entirely to interception.

The Germans now decided to make use of Alexander, it turned out his father was Austrian and had held high position and was intimate with the Emperor’s confidantes. On the other hand, his mother was English. The family had lived in Brussels for several years and Belgium was their home. Having checked his background, there seemed no reason not to use his services so they gave him a civilian contract in the Brussels radio station.  He took care of all the apparatus, made suggestions for improvements and his knowledge of several languages was very useful.

Czek knew morse and could copy at what was then the usual speed. With some additional training he was then employed in copying the transmissions of foreign stations sent in plain text. He had to sign a pledge of secrecy and say nothing about his work and that was that, he was in.

Soon he was sending and receiving enciphered telegrams. He fitted in well and got on with his German colleagues and their confidence in him rose. One day it was really busy and two long enciphered telegrams arrived, there were also two people off sick so the boss decided to use Czek to decipher the telegrams. They gave him the code books and he set to work though he was not allowed to keep the books.

There were two books, one was the key book, a thick volume containing the code elements and their meaning. The encipherment book was a relatively small volume and to decipher, this was the first book to use. Czek was an extremely clever decoder and from then on was used repeatedly for messages arriving from Berlin. All this time he gave no cause for concern to the Germans who trusted him completely.

In the summer of 1915 a captain of the British Intelligence Service arrived in Brussels and perfidious Albion discovered that there was a civilian employed in the Brussels radio station. A young lady of Brussels was selected to win Czek over to work for the British Secret Service. This was not so easy because Czek was trying to keep on the straight and narrow. gradually the young lady brought Czek into contact with the Belgian liberation movement and after months they finally succeeded in convincing him to work for the Allies. Czek was ready to prepare a copy of the codebooks for the British Secret Service.

This was not so easy because Czek only had access to the codebooks when he needed to use them and he was never left alone with them. He took a copy by making a kind of draft while decoding, this contained the code groups and their meaning for the telegram he was working on and then concealed the draft on his person when he left work. In this way he managed to note the meaning of all the groups from the telegrams over a period of months, It wasn’t the complete codebook but it was the most used parts of it. The Germans still had no suspicions about him but soon they noticed him hanging about with member of the liberation movement and start to have their doubts. They then dismissed him and told him not to leave Brussels.

Alexander now saw he was in great danger so decided to flee. He got to the Dutch border and managed to reach Dutch territory. Shortly afterwards, his notes were in the British Cipher Bureau in London, or Room 40 as it was known. From about the end of 1915 the British were able to decipher and read all telegrams exchanged between the Berlin Foreign Office and their representatives abroad. The Germans never suspected that the British had their codebook and were reading all their transmissions, they all ended up on the desk of the British Foreign Minister.

This is the reason the British were able to read the Zimmermann telegram so promptly , amazingly more than one year after Czek had stolen them,  the Germans still did not realise their codes were compromised. No trace was ever found of Alexander Czek afterwards, what happened to him is a mystery.


© well_chuffed 2018

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