Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Gene Storie, a Bavarian lake & Bletchley Park

Gerald E. Storie
The rewards of arising every morning to feed this beast include hearing from readers who find something useful, enlightening or entertaining. As a bonus, readers often share information that casts more light on a topic or a person.

That happened again late last week when I heard from Thomas Boghardt, senior historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Leslie J. McNair, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Boghardt had happened upon a piece written back in August of 2017 about Derby's Gerald Eugene "Gene" Storie, one of Lucas County's World War II losses. Gene, just 21, drowned on the evening of July 14, 1945, while swimming in the Schliersee, a mountain lake south of Munich, just a few weeks after Germany's surrender during early May.

It was a tragic end to a poignant life story --- you can read more of Gene's story here, if you like.

But there's a little bit more to it, and Dr. Boghardt wanted me to know that the circumstances of Storie's sad death had been instrumental in a major Allied intelligence coup during that long-ago summer in Bavaria.


Raised in Derby by his grandmother and a graduate of Derby High School, Gene  enlisted in the U.S. Army at Camp Dodge on July 13, 1943. He was called to active duty on August 3 and after more than a year of training and stateside assignments was deployed to the European Theater on Oct. 30, 1944.

Assigned as a truck driver to Battery A, 575th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automotive Weapons Battalion, Eugene pushed into Germany with his unit during the final Allied offensive, was promoted to the rank of private first class and no doubt celebrated with his buddies when Germany surrendered --- an exemplary young man with a bright future.

The exact circumstances of his drowning on the evening of July 14, 1945, at Schliersee aren't clear, but the official record states that his death "occurred in the line of duty and was not the result of his own misconduct."


Many Iowans by now are at least vaguely familiar with Bletchley Park, the estate in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, that was the central site for British and then Allied codebreakers during World War II. The value of the intelligence gathered there shortened the war, perhaps even ensured Allied victory.

Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as Alan Turing in 2014's The Imitation Game helped familiarize Americans with the facility and its importance..

What isn't so widely known is that as the war was entering end game, Bletchley Park also became the headquarters for a major and highly classified Allied intelligence operation to seek out and capture the cryptologic secrets of Germany as soon as circumstances permitted.

An Allied outfit code-named TICOM (Target Intelligence Committee) was formed for that purpose. Its aim was to capture, collect and process information about as well as the technology, devices and documents of Nazi cryptographic efforts, including those of the Supreme Command of the German Armed Forces --- Oberkommando der Wehrmacht Chiffrierabteilung, abbreviated OKW/Chi.

An historian named Randy Rezabek authored a piece about these operations entitled "TICOM and the Search for OKW/Chi" for the journal Cryptologia during 2013 --- and Dr. Boghardt was kind enough to forward a copy of it to me.


During early May of 1945, TICOM shifted its emphasis to targets that included the archives of OKW/Chi and received a tip from a captured officer that the OKW/Chi archives had been evacuated from Berlin to the Schliersee, a mountain lake south of Munich. More documentation came to light as the month passed and on May 21, investigators made a brief but fruitless stop at Schliersee, looking for traces.

During June, TICOM returned to Schliersee and intensified its search of the lakeside town by that name as well as the countryside around the lake. What they found was of limited interest, but an intriguing rumor showed promise --- on May 1 and 2 a train reportedly had rolled into Schliersee, then parked on a siding on the far side of the lake where it remained a day or two. During that time, German soldiers reportedly unloaded at least part of its cargo and threw it into the lake.

The lake, however, was too deep and too large to search without specialists and special equipment, so the team left at the end of June after recommending that a dragging operation be undertaken sometime in the future but with no guarantee that this actually would happen.

There was every possibility that the OKW/Chi archive might never have been recovered --- investigators were not absolutely certain it had been dumped into the lake ---  but then on July 14, PFC Gene Storie drowned while swimming in Schliersee.

Gene's body was not recovered immediately and so Army officials launched a dragging operation. During that operation, a waterproof box was snagged at the north end of the lake. It proved to contain part of the OKW/Chi archive.

Gene's body was recovered, too, and during August and September TICOM launched a major dragging and diving operation. Twenty-eight boxes of OKW/Chi-related material were recovered --- roughly four tons.


Everything recovered at Schliersee was sorted and condensed, then repacked into 19 containers for shipment home to England. Those boxes arrived at Bletchley Park on Oct. 5, 1945.

Gene Storie's remains were brought eventually to what is now the Lorraine American Cemetery at St. Avold, France, and interred with those of some 16,000 other Americans lost in the war. They remained there until 1948.

PFC Gerald E. Storie was re-interred at Iowa's Keokuk National Cemetery --- Iowa's only national cemetery --- on Nov. 2, 1948 (Section D, Grave No. 129), where he remains as Memorial Day 2018 approaches.

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