Thursday, February 23, 2017

Today -100: February 23, 1917: Of vaux bacon, colonies, yarrowdales, referenda, and telegrams

Headline of the Day -100:

Not a weird photography experiment, but Britain’s plans to hold a secret trial for alleged spy George Vaux Bacon.

The Allies announce that Germany won’t be getting any of its colonies back. Britain, France, Portugal, and Belgium also plan to redraw the map of Africa so the borders between their colonies are tidier.

The crews, including American sailors, on the Yarrowdale, have been released by the Germans. Which was reported a week ago, I guess wrongly. (Update: actually this report is wrong too).

American pacifists are divided on whether a referendum on war is a good idea or not.

British Naval Intelligence informs the US of the contents of the Zimmermann Telegram.

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  1. Zimmerman telegram was intercepted Jan. 19, 1917. February 23 was the day the British offically gave the note to the US Ambassador. The delay was due to the reluctance of the Brits to admit they have been reading US Diplomatic cable traffic (which they continued to do for 25 years), which was used by Zimmerman to message German Ambassador in D.C. in the innocent assumption the link was secure. Unknown to Zimmerman was the cable from Berlin to D.C. went through Great Britain. Also Brits needed a cover story to keep the Germans unaware they had broken their codes. Brits knew what they were looking for, so it was just a matter of bribing a Mexican employee of a comercial telegraph office for the decrypted copy sent from the German Embassy in D.C. Anyway the Brits obtained a copy and pretended that normal spying found it. In the end everybody was totally fooled, and Zimmerman stupidly acknowledged it publicly.

  2. You're right, of course, about the date, which I have corrected. Don't know how that happened.

    It wasn't so much that the Germans thought their message was secure -- pretty much the first thing the British did at the start of the war was snip the German's transatlantic cable, so they were aware that this message was going via Britain (the original plan was to send it directly to Mexico by u-boat, but no u-boat was available). What they assumed was that their code hadn't been broken.

    There'll be more detail on the Zimmermann Telegram in my March 1st post (and on the 2nd, 4th, etc).