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

 

116.

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: ‘Section D for Destruction: Forerunner of SOE’

111. SECTION 'D'

Reviewer: Michael  Keith

Title:  Section D for Destruction: Forerunner of SOE

Author: Malcolm Atkin

Total Number of Printed Pages: 258

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

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Sir Walter Scott’s famous quote from Marmion; ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive’ is an appropriate precis for this volume.  The story narrated within this book is indeed a ‘tangled web’, with deceit and deception on almost every page, and a cast of characters that range from the highest levels of the British Government, to the lowest depths of European and Middle Eastern society. It is both a ‘Ripping Yarn’ and an insight into the machinations that accompanied Great Britain’s early World War II-era unconventional-warfare forays into Nazi-controlled Europe. It is also a long-overdue tribute to Laurence Grand; the little-known genius who successfully created the whole ‘Amateurs at irregular war’ concept.

A List of Plates follows the Contents page and reproduces the captions of the 33 images which form the ‘plates’ section of the volume; this latter being placed at the centre of the volume. A List of Figures section follows. This lists the various Tables and single Map which appear within the volume. An Acknowledgements section then thanks those who contributed to the completed volume. It is in turn followed by a two page Abbreviations and Acronyms section; a necessity in a volume abounding with military abbreviations. A Preface then relates the difficulties encountered when interpreting documentation rewritten to push particular political and personal viewpoints. An Introduction then precis’ what is to follow. The main part of the volume consists of 11 Chapters. These trace the evolution of Section D from its 1938 creation to its absorption into the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) in 1941.While the first three Chapters deal with the organisational and technical aspects of its subject, those remaining, narrate Section D’s military activities. Frequently innovative and original in concept, such activities occurred where Section D’s controllers believed that British interests could be best served.  That these might be in places hitherto ‘friendly’ towards Great Britain was largely irrelevant, but never random.  The volume’s ‘action’ Chapters are divided into geographical sections; The Balkans (Chapter 6) and Scandinavia (Chapter 9), being but two examples of this practice. Individual nations appear as subsections within the specific Chapter, their political, cultural and ethnic make-up at the time of World War II being described in depth. Such information provides background to Section D’s activities both within the nation itself and (as they were invariably interconnected), in those countries within its immediate vicinity.  A Conclusion follows Chapter 11 (Into SOE); in it the author provides an assessment of the effectiveness of Section D. An entry on the Contents page then indicates that two Appendices are to follow the previously-mentioned Conclusion. Curiously, these do not appear within the volume but have to be accessed at the author’s online address. Why this has been done is not explained. Within each Chapter, additional information is provided through sequentially-numbered and chapter-specific citations.  These are end-note in format and appear in a designated Notes section placed after the Conclusions section. A Bibliography follows the Notes section and is in turn followed by an Index; the final section in the volume. The previously-mentioned Plates section contains 33 black and white images relevant to the narrative. These range from individuals, to locations, to the equipment used when undertaking the ‘unconventional’ warfare described within the volume.  As previously noted (and despite Section D being active throughout Europe and the Middle East), the volume contains only one map (of the Balkans, on page 85). Why this should be, is unknown. At minimum, a map of Europe would have been a valuable aide memoire, if only to show the theatre of operations being discussed. An additional ‘Regional’ map at the start of each Chapter would have been even better.  In the absence of such devices, the value of this volume as a research source is inevitably reduced.

This is a well-written and very readable volume that is likely to become the authoritative work on its subject. As such it is likely to have wide appeal. Military personnel and Historians with an interest in either World War II or ‘unconventional warfare’ may well find its contents of interest. Readers with a ‘generalist’ view of World War II are likely to find it informative, as are with those with an interest in the more unusual forms of warfare and the weapons which are employed in such situations. Those looking for ‘real life’ James Bonds’ and ‘spies’, could also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Section D for Destruction: Forerunner of SOE’