Frederick W. Winterbotham


Winterbotham, Frederick W. The Nazi Connection. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1978. New York: Harper & Row, 1978. Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1978.

Winterbotham, Frederick W.

1. The Ultra Secret. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. The Ultra Secret: The Inside Story of Operation Ultra, Bletchley Park and Enigma. London: Orion, 2000. [pb]

Clark comment: The Ultra Secret is important in the history of intelligence literature because it was the first popular account of Ultra, written by a participant. Winterbotham was the special security officer in SIS who established the system of dissemination and control of the Ultra material.

However, Pforzheimer, IJI&C 4.2, suggests that the book "must be read with some caution, because of [Winterbotham's] self-aggrandizement, because his aging memory occasionally betrays him and because he had no access for more than 25 years prior to the publication of his book to the British Ultra decryptions he discusses therein."

To Tordella, Studies 19.3 (Fall 1975), Winterbotham's recollections "are at best incomplete even if quite accurate in places," making the book "a prolific source of misinformation." The author "reveal[s] the fact of analytic operations against the German ENIGMA while hopelessly confusing the extent of the success and the fact that other types of machines and hand systems were also involved." The Ultra Secret "is inaccurate in detail, and although it resembles the truth in outline, much of it is purely imaginary."

Constantinides notes that our current understanding of Ultra shows many things to be wrong with Winterbotham's account. Basically, the work "has been superseded by subsequent works,... that deal with technical, cryptologic, and operational aspects of Ultra in a more complete and more accurate way."

For a range of contemporaneous reviews, see: Constantine Fitzgibbon, "'The Ultra Secret': Enigma in the War," Encounter 44 (Mar. 1975), 81-85; David Hunt, "Breakthrough at Bletchley Park," The Times Literary Supplement, 13 Apr. 1974, 1425 (an exchange of views between Winterbotham and Hunt is carried in The Times Literary Supplement, 25 Jun. 1976, 852, and 9 Jul. 1976, 783); David Kahn, "ENIGMA Unwrapped: The Ultra Secret," New York Times Book Review, 29 Dec. 1974, 5; Curtis Prendergast, "Ne Plus Ultra," Time, 9 Dec. 1974, 103-104; and Roger J. Spiller, "Assessing Ultra," Military Review 59 (Aug. 1979), 13-23 (Sexton terms the latter a "valuable essay that is well worth reading").

2. The Ultra Spy: An Autobiography. London: Macmillan 1989. London: Papermac, 1991. [pb]

Surveillant 1.5 calls this a "firsthand account of how the British decoded German communications..., by one of the leaders of this operation." For McGinnis, Cryptolog, Spring 1995, The Ultra Secret and The Ultra Spy provide "a very personal first hand story of how ENIGMA was handled by the British during the war. They also give an insight concerning the effectiveness of the decrypted material" in pursuing the war. The Ultra Secret "is the more interesting of the two.... I suggest you read it and forget about the second."

Bennett. I&NS 6.1, is bothered by the author's failure to take into account "anything published since the appearance of The Ultra Secret in 1974." By not doing so, he has failed to "correct[] his many errors." The book is "inaccurate and misleading, and most of it has been said by the same author before."

[UK/Memoirs/WWII; UK/WWII/Ultra]

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