BOOK REVIEW: ‘MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945’

 

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945

Author: Nigel West

Total Number of Pages: 290

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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In his Introduction (and when detailing the reasons for the writing of this volume), the author notes that the book ‘…Is intended primarily as a detailed description of the Secret Intelligence Service [SIS] and its operations during the last war [World War II]’, with the qualification that ‘…To do justice to the subject I have covered the events which led to the organization’s creation in 1909’ and that ‘It would also have been impossible to explain the MI6 of 1939 without describing the inter-war preoccupations of the Service…’ It is a clear summary of what is to follow.

Within the book itself, an Illustrations page placed immediately after its Contents page provides abbreviated captions for the images appearing within an eight-page Plates section placed in the centre of the volume. It is followed by an Acknowledgements page within which the author thanks those who contributed to the creation of the volume. A two-page Abbreviations section follows; within it appear explanations of the various abbreviations used throughout the volume. The volume’s Introduction is next. While acting as a synopsis of what is to follow, within it the author also elaborates on his reasons for writing the volume. A section titled The Wartime Organization Of The Secret Intelligence Service follows. Within this, and through the use of Maps and Tables, the author provides visual evidence of both the SIS’s organisational structure and its’ international operational network. The Table format has also been used within the volume proper to show Secret Intelligence Service Accounts for the period 1920-1921 and 1935-36. The 15 Chapters which form the bulk of the volume now appear. These are divided into two sections; the first (Part One: 1909-1940) dealing with British Intelligence operations during that time, with the second (Part Two: 1940-45) examining SIS activities during the latter period. Within each Part individual Chapters examine specific time periods (Part One) or operations, other intelligence groups or counter-espionage (Part Two). Chapter 15 (Soviet Penetration) is followed by the volume’s only Appendix. This is an English-language translation of Der Britische Nachrichtendienst described as being ‘A summary prepared by the Reich Security Agency early in 1940, in preparation for the German invasion of Britain…’ The description is self-explanatory. The Appendix is followed by a single-page Notes section. This gives source-citations for the 15 end-note-type and numerically-sequential citations that appear within the volume. The Notes page is followed by the volume’s Index; it’s final section. As previously- noted the volume contains an eight-page section of photographs (termed Plates). The images are all monochrome and are accompanied by informative captions, these being expanded versions of those contained in the previously-mentioned Illustrations section. Curiously, and although the captions on the Illustrations page carry source-citations, the actual images do not. The reasons for this are unknown. The volume contains numerous Quotes, with those on pages 42 and 43 being but two examples of the genre’. Such Quotes  are not however accompanied by authenticating citations, and in the absence of the latter, their authenticity becomes suspect.

While finding this volume to be well-researched and easy to read, this review had major problems with its Index; the absence of Index entries for numerous randomly-chosen entries raising severe doubts concerning its authority and veracity.  An example of this concerns randomly-chosen Index entries for Sandstetter, Asyut, Gaafar, Almasy and Haj Mohammed Amin-el-Husseini; all on page 204, all mentioned in the narrative yet none dignified with an Index entry. As numerous similar examples were also found within the book, the extent of the problem would seem to be significant. There is, of course, no way of knowing.

The ‘imperfections’ previously-noted notwithstanding, this book may appeal to a variety of readers. Military Historians may find its content informative, as may readers with an interest in military history, espionage and general military operations during World War II. Readers seeking a story of ‘Daring Do’, ‘Cloak and Dagger’ and ‘Spies and Counter Spies’ might also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘MI6: BRITISH SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS 1909-1945’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Wartime Standard Ships

Author: Nick Robins

Total Number of Printed Pages: 177

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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In wartime, the impossible tends to become commonplace, with previously-insurmountable obstacles suddenly being overcome. Such was the case with the merchant vessels of all shapes, sizes and varieties used by the combatants during both the First and Second World Wars. Large numbers of such craft were needed, quickly and at low cost. This is their story. As it was the Allies who had the greatest need for such ships (to carry all sorts of materials essential to the war effort), the main focus of this volume is inevitably on vessels produced to meet their need. Axis merchant-vessel production is not however ignored. Although primarily concerned with the ships themselves, the volume also provides the ‘…Political and military background’ that resulted in the creation of these vessels; something not previously attempted’. The result is a well-written, exhaustively researched and very readable volume about a hitherto-neglected area of maritime history.

A Preface opens the volume. It briefly summarises what follows, while also relating the reasons that this book was written. A Foreword elaborates on what has gone before, and is in turn followed by the 16 Chapters which form the main part of the book. Within these, the reader is taken in logical steps through the history and development of mass-produced wartime merchant vessels. As they epitomise the success of wartime shipbuilding (at least by the Allies) specific reference is made to the Liberty and Victory ships; arguably the best known of all the many types that were produced by any side. Chapters devoted to German and Japanese efforts to build similar cargo vessels are also included. The volume includes numerous clear, informatively-captioned and clearly-sourced monochrome photographs,. However, the Contents page carries no acknowledgment of their existence, while the Index states that ‘Page numbers in italic refer to illustrations’. Tables and half-tone illustrations also appear where necessary, but again, neither the Contents page nor the Index, acknowledge that they exist. Within some Chapters, clearly-delineated subsections contain reprinted articles that provide additional information relevant to that specific Chapter. A single-page References section is placed after Chapter 16. This acts a Bibliography and is in turn followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. Despite mentioning many shipbuilding locations, the volume provides no maps to show where these might be.

For this reviewer this volume was let down in two areas: article sources and the explanation of freely-used technical terms. Of these, the most important was the absence of source citations and, (specifically) page numbers, for the numerous articles that are quoted within the text.  Although when quoting an article, the author refers the reader to its source volume, when the latter is many pages in length, the futility of searching for a small paragraph within it becomes evident.  Provision of specific page numbers within the source volume would have been of considerable assistance. The absence of any Glossary of the nautical terms used within the volume was also surprising, the author evidently believing that he was writing to an already technically-familiar audience. Unfortunately, not all potential purchasers will be so-equipped. What, (for example), is a ‘Scantling’ (p.68) or ‘Deadweight’ (p.102)? In the absence of any definition and without recourse to a dictionary, a reader with no maritime knowledge can but guess, and, baffled by jargon, could well decline to purchase.

Although aimed primarily at those interested in wartime shipping, this book could well be of value to any merchant-shipping enthusiast. Modellers of ‘Emergency’ cargo ships could also find it of use. Finally (and despite the previously-mentioned ‘limitations’), for this reviewer it is in his (very rare), ‘Must have’ category.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.


 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ British Armoured Car Operations In World War One’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  British Armoured Car Operations In World War One

Author: Bryan Perrett

Total Number of Pages: 157

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9

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It easy to focus on the ‘Big Picture’ and ignore the small things; those details which, contribute-to and ultimately comprise the larger image. World War I is no exception, there being a tendency to focus on events in Europe to the exclusion of the smaller alarums and excursions which played a part in the larger conflict. This book, in the course of the narrative about its specific subject, deals with the ‘smaller things’, and does it well.

This is a well-written and very readable volume. It details the origins, development and operations of armoured cars used by British forces during World War I. A detailed background gives insight into the origins of the armoured-car genre. The majority of British armoured car operations during World War I occurred in obscure locations far removed from Europe and the Western Front.  As a result, the reader is taken into Russia, the Balkans, Iran, the Levant and Africa; into small places and small wars. The relevant details are well-narrated. This reviewer found the chapters relating to the Russian / Balkan experiences of the British armoured car units particularly interesting, but was left with the impression that many of the non-British participants viewed the World War as being totally irrelevant to their own particular machinations. By their free-roaming, almost piratical nature, armoured cars attracted some interesting ‘personalities’. When these individuals make their appearance within the volume, they are treated with sympathy, although their foibles are not overlooked. The volume contains a selection of contemporary and informative photographs.  Disappointingly, one of these (No.15) although notated as being ‘A rare coloured photograph…’, appears only in a monochrome format.

The book consists of 11 Chapters. Maps are provided. Photographic captions are placed alongside their respective images and also appear in a separate List of Plates section in the front of the volume.  A Foreword relates the volume to a previously-published work by the author.  A Bibliography and Index are provided. No Source Notes are provided for the various quotations appearing within the work.

This book is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include military historians and those with a particular interest in land-based warfare and military vehicles. Military modellers specialising in World War I would probably find the photographs of use. It may also appeal to those who simply like an enjoyable read about an unusual subject.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent: I would give it a 9.

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nzcrownmines is available for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ British Armoured Car Operations In World War One’