Macquarie University
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Why is the Abwehr misunderstood? Explaining the historical controversy over German military intelligence, 1935-1945

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posted on 2022-10-27, 23:39 authored by Renate Katharina Maria Atkins

Literature on German resistance and its central actor, the Abwehr (German military intelligence), during the Nazi regime is in abundance available, but no universally accepted history of the Abwehr and its leadership exist. Vehement controversies are found in historical literature regarding the Abwehr’s and its leadership’s aims, motives, roles and performance, its support for the Allied war efforts and its influence on the war’s outcome. By reading through literature, one finds that the Abwehr is misunderstood due to narrow views, social and political circumstance, political gains, intellectual snobbery and preconceived opinions about intelligence and classes. Several factors contribute to the mishandling of facts by historians and the misinterpretation of the Abwehr. Historians’ inadequate engagement with the complex and contradictory double-role of the Abwehr as intelligence organization and simultaneously as centre of resistance and the refusal among British historians to acknowledge intelligence cooperation between enemies and the Abwehr’s support of the Allied war efforts, indicating British intelligence supremacy, lead to the grave contradictions in literature. 

A critical evaluation of different strands in the history of WWII is presented, enabling the development of a more historically grounded and broadly contextualized perspective through profound engagement with the literature. By considering availability and choice of resources, the influence of social, cultural, political, intellectual and personal factors on historian’s interpretation, the thesis contributes to the understanding of the dynamics of the historiography of the Abwehr and exposes the reasons for misinterpretations, thereby contributing to history’s intellectual history, epistemology, and craft.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- The debate’s origin: The Nuremberg Trials and the roots of German and British World War II (WWII) histories -- German Traditionalists vs British traditionalists on the subject of intelligence -- German traditionalists vs revisionists regarding resistance -- Post-revisionists: intelligence and resistance combined -- Conclusion – Bibliography -- Appendix I -- Appendix II -- Appendix III -- Table of abbreviations and explanations -- List of in-text tables and figures

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Thesis (MRes), Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, 2021

Department, Centre or School

Department of Security Studies and Criminology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Allon Uhlmann

Additional Supervisor 1

Brian Cuddy


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




97 pages

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