Making Sense of Bonner Fellers

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by Fatboy Coxy, Nov 30, 2022.

  1. Fatboy Coxy

    Fatboy Coxy Junior Member

    Hi all, researching the battle of Gazala, I came across the American military attaché in Egypt, Bonner Fellers, who was given access to British sensitive military information.

    Reading Wiki, (yes, I know, but that’s why I’m asking) I’m left with “the most violent Anglophobe” who, by sending detailed reports of British OOB’s, among other sensitive information, by radiogram, to President Franklin Roosevelt, the head of American intelligence, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, helped the Axis, who were reading his reports. Unfortunately, the code he used had been stolen from the US Embassy in Rome, and was being intercepted by the Italians, and hence the Germans.

    Oh dear, that’s not very good, and I’m left with numerous conundrums about him.

    Firstly, having said that he is anti-British, is there any suggestion that what he did was with malice towards Britain. A countenance to this is his advocacy for quick reinforcement and supplies for the British following Gazala.

    Secondly, is there any blame on his part, over the Italian interception and reading of his reports. Should he have done things differently, or was this standard practice?

    Thirdly, what advice was he giving to Roosevelt, and how did this clash with General Marshall.

    Fourthly, how damaging were his reports, how much can we apportion British failures due to his reports, given various other British Army failures, including the successful wireless interception of British Radio traffic by a unit of Rommel’s.

    And lastly, did this incident damage his career, at a time when many American army officers saw rapid promotion.
    Chris C likes this.
  2. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    I do not know the answer to those questions, and I haven't watched this YET, but there was an episode of WW2TV discussing him that might be worth a watch.

    Fatboy Coxy likes this.
  3. Fatboy Coxy

    Fatboy Coxy Junior Member

    Blimey, your quick!
    Chris C likes this.
  4. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Just an accident of when I happened to check the forum :)
  5. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Having watched the video, I think the answer to some of your questions are fairly clear:

    (1) No. The "anglophobe" comment on wikipedia seems to stem from him being critical of British conduct of the war in North Africa. The point that Phil Craig makes in the WW2TV video is that Fuller was never even made aware of the fact his reports were being leaked.

    The quote on wikipedia "The Eighth Army has failed to maintain the morale of its troops; its tactical conceptions were always wrong, it neglected completely cooperation between the various arms; its reactions to the lightning changes in the battlefield were always slow." stems, according to the footnotes, from May-June 1942 which was probably the low ebb of British military performance in WW2. But he was right about the lack of cooperation between arms and the slow response time on the battlefield.

    (2) No, as the Italians apparently did a very good job of stealing the code book unnoticed, and from what I can tell Fuller was simply following practice he had been told to follow.

    Don't know about the other points. I am sure that the information that the Germans were able to access was extremely helpful to them but is that even possible to quantify?
  6. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    Fellers was exonerated from any blame. His job was to send his views on the military performance of the British - as he saw it, to Washington.

    His reports, initially written in clear, would have been sent to the US Embassy’s Communications & Cypher Room in Cairo for encoding and despatch. He would have been blissfully unaware that the Italians were deciphering and reading his reports.

    The damage that he inflicted was in the world of maritime resupply to Axis troops in North Africa. By extensively listing the patrol activities of the Royal Navy in his reports, he allowed the Italians to plan their convoys from Italy to avoid those patrols. As a result, a lot more supplies reached North Africa that the Allies would have wanted.

    His military career was certainly unaffected by this affair.


    Last edited: Dec 1, 2022
  7. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

Share This Page