— Wehrmacht Manual Ciphers —
Doppelkastenschlüssel, Truppenschlüssel TS42, Nachrichtenschlüssel NS42, Rasterschlüssel 44


German Wehrmacht manual ciphers or hand ciphers have not received the same exposure as the German machine ciphers. The title both Christopher Morris1 and Nigel Currer-Briggs2 used for their respective articles about German manual ciphers, ULTRA's Poor Relations, is indeed an apt description. The German manual ciphers were getting less attention both during the war and especially afterwards when historians largely concentrated on the more exciting field of breaking enemy machine ciphers. To some extent this is understandable. The machine ciphers were usually the systems that offered the highest security against codebreaking and therefore they also carried the most secret and most important messages. On the other hand the Wehrmacht manual ciphers were mainly used by frontline troops and therefore carried mostly tactical messages of little or no strategic value. However, they could and they did supply information that was exploited as cribs or probable words for breaking into the more difficult Enigma messages covering the same military command or area.

However, some forces or services were heavily using manual ciphers. One of these were the units of the German Ordnungspolizei or Orpo (Order Police), a uniformed and militarised police force that was created in 1936. They were under the operational control of the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt — The Reich Main Security Office) and their chief was Kurt Daluege. The Order Police battalions and the SS Einsatzgruppen (Task Forces) that operated in Poland and on the Eastern Front were big users of German Wehrmacht manual ciphers. The decryption of these messages allowed Bletchley Park to follow the executions and killings of the civil population by these troops in the Eastern territories. The manual ciphers were crucial in following and documenting the atrocities perpetrated by these units. It is estimated that they killed more than 2 million people during the war.

Another user of manual ciphers was the Abwehr, however they did not use the Wehrmacht manual ciphers but rather manual ciphers specially created for use by their agents. In that respect the ciphers were more like the normal agent ciphers using double transposition, various substitution systems where the keys often were poems or based on novels or other readily available texts. Also the German civil authorities and administrations (Behörden) used Wehrmacht manual ciphers. These ciphers were generally called Behörden-Handschlüssel (Authorities hand cipher).

1)   Morris, Christopher. 1986. Ultra's poor relations, Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 1 (1), pp. 111-122.
2)   Currer-Briggs, Nigel. 1993. Army Ultra's Poor Relations, In Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park,
       eds. F. H. Hinsley and A. Stripp, pp. 209–230. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Several of the TICOM documents released here are available in the TICOM collection of the German Foreign Office’s Political Archive.
Source: Bestand Rückgabe TICOM, S8, Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amts, Berlin.

Last update: 21 January 2022.

German Manual Cipher Publications

Here is a list of some papers and articles that describes the various manual ciphers used by the German Wehrmacht during the Second World War.

German Manuals and Operating Instructions

Here are the instruction and operating manuals for some of the German manual cipher systems and other related documents.

Related Documents

Here are some other documents related to German manual ciphers.

German Manual Cipher Keys

Here are few keys for some German Army manual ciphers. The two first keys are in the format used by the Nachrichtenschlüssel 42 and Truppenschlüssel 42. The key sheet has keys for a whole months, 31 days, where each day has six single boxes that are combined such as to get eight double boxes that are valid for three hours in a 24 hour period. Because the key does not have any indicators (Kenngruppen) it is most likely for the Truppenschlüssel 42; the Truppenschlüssel systems generally did not use indicators and they were therefore nicknamed No Indicator by the allied SIGINT organisations.

The next two keys are replacement keys for the Rasterschlüssel RS 44. These keys were to be used when the normal cipher keys for RS 44 such as the stencils (Rasterblocks or Schlüsselblocks) were not available. The replacement system is using double columnar transposition with a numerical key which is 20 to 25 numbers long. The system is described here:
Rasterersatzverfahren und Notschlüssel zum Rasterersatzverfahren

Related Information

Manual Cipher Links

Here are a few links to other sources on German manual ciphers.



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by Frode Weierud, © January 2021

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