World War II

The British Services


Anglim, Simon. "MI(R), G(R) and British Covert Operations, 1939-42." Intelligence and National Security 20, no. 4 (Dec. 2005): 631-653.

Clark comment: This is a very interesting article about a rarely discussed component of British covert operations in the early years of World War II.

The author argues that the Military Intelligence (Research) department of the War Office "pioneered covert operations of the type seen recently in Afghanistan and Northern Iraq." Although MI(R) was incorporated into SOE in October 1940, it had developed "an un-codified, but coherent and organically developing doctrine for covert operations," which was influential on SOE. Also, a number of key figures in the development of wartime covert operations, including Colin Gubbins and Orde Wingate, got their start in MI(R).

Doherty, Richard.

1. The British Reconnaissance Corps in World War II. Botley, UK: Osprey, 2007. [pb]

The spearhead role of the Reconnaissance Corps "meant that they were consistently at the forefront of all dramatic action, and most famously served with the 1st and 6th Airborne at Arnhem and with the Chindits in Burma.Within every theater of war, ranging from the jungles to the deserts, the Reconnaissance Corps made a critical contribution to the Allied war effort."

2. Only the Enemy in Front: History of the Reconnaissance Corps, 1941-1946. London: Donovan, 1994. Stroud, UK: Spellmount, 1994. [pb] Only the Enemy in Front: The Recce Corps at War 1940-46. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.

Fedorowich, Kent. "Axis Prisoners of War as Sources for British Military Intelligence, 1939-42." Intelligence and National Security 14, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 156-178.

In the 1939-1942 period, "an integrated infrastructure was painstakingly established [in the Britih armed services] to extract, collate and assess material obtained from Axis POWs.... There is no question that intelligence gleaned from enemy POWs was crucial in the Allied victory.... The caveat, however, was that this information complemented other sources of intelligence, and was used in conjunction with these sources."

Fenton, Ben. "Documents Reveal Role of 'Winged Spies.'" Telegraph (London), 21 Mar. 2007. [http://www.telegraph.co.uk]

Documents released at the National Archives in Kew indicate that from 1940 British intelligence dropped hundred of pigeons behind German lines. Each pigeon carried "a miniature spying kit: a bakelite tube to put a message in; sheets of ultra-thin paper and a special pencil; detailed instructions in French, Flemish or Dutch on how to fill in a report." The operation, run by MI 14 and called Source Columba, is credited with providing "high-grade intelligence of German plans."

Jones, Kevin.

1. "A Curb on Ambition: Intelligence and the Planning of Eighth Army's Liri Valley Offensive, May 1944." Intelligence and National Security 22, no. 5 (Oct. 2007): 745-766.

The planning of Lt.-Gen. Sir Oliver Leese's offensive in the Liri Valley in May 1944 "was founded more on cautious consolidaion than it was bold exploitation. Moreover, rather than facilitating exploitation, intelligence was used to curb ambition still further."

2. Intelligence and Command at the Operational Level of War: The British Eighth Army in the Italian Campaign 1943-45. London: Routledge, 2006.

Ladd, James. Commandos and Rangers of World War II. London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1978. London: David & Charles, 1989. [pb] New York: Sterling, 1989. Rockville, MD: Wildside Press, 1989.

From publisher: This book offers "insight into the methods and equipment of the Commando and Ranger units, including the special tactics and techniques which they developed to spearhead the Allied invasions. It includes personal and eye-witness accounts, which aid understanding of the campaigns and their aims and achievements."

MacPherson, Tommy [Sir], with Richard Bath. Behind Enemy Lines: The Autobiography of Britain's Most Decorated Living War Hero. London: Mainstream Publishing, 2010.

For Peake, Studies 55.3 (Sep. 2011), this book "is exciting reading and leaves no doubt that MacPherson earned his many medals and awards the old-fashioned way."

Messenger, Charles. The Commandos 1940-1946. London: Kimber, 1985. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. [pb]

Neitzel, Sönke, ed. Tr., Geoffrey Brooks. Tapping Hitler's Generals: Transcripts of Secret Conversations, 1942–1945. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing, 2007.

According to Lefebvre, IJI&C 21.4 (Winter 2008-2009), this book "contains the analysis and the verbatim transcripts of several dozen taped conversations held between 1942 and 1945 among imprisoned German officers (most of whom were generals) at Trent Park, the location of a British Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre (CSDIC).... The information obtained by MI19 from German colonels and generals did not have much direct military value.... Yet, the indirect, strategic gains were huge."

Parlour, Andy; and Sue Parlour. Phantom at War: The British Army's Secret Intelligence and Communication Regiment of World War Two. Bristol: Cerberus, 2003.

From publisher: "This is the story of perhaps one of the British Army's least known regiments of World War Two -- The General Headquarters Liaison Regiment, code-named Phantom." The unit was the brainchild of Lt. Col. George Frederick Hopkinson. Phantom served in "Greece, North Africa, Italy and the Mediterranean, and its role was ... of paramount importance in the liberation of Europe." The "regiment worked with all the Allied forces and a special Phantom squadron served with the SAS behind enemy lines."

Simpson, John, with Mark Adkin. The Quiet Operator: Special Forces Signaller Extraordinary. London: Leo Cooper, 1993.

Foot, I&NS 9.3: "Len Willmott (1921-1993) ... entered the British Army as a boy signaller in 1937, operated in secret in Poland, Greece, France, and Holland during the Second World War, ran some line-crossers from east to west Germany, helped sort out the SAS from some of its worst tangles in Malaya, and emigrated to New Zealand to work in the security sevice when the army dropped him.... [Simpson] writes good, clear ... English, and tells the story as straight as he can ... and always tells the reader whether he knows or is guessing."

Skillen, Hugh.

1. Spies of the Airwaves: History of the Army Y Section in the Second World War. Pinner, Middlesex, UK: Hugh Skillen, 1990.

2. The Y Compendium. Pinner, Middlesex, UK: Hugh Skillen, 1990.

Steers, Bob. FSS. Field Security Section. Ashford, Kent: Intelligence Corps Association, 1996.

According to Watt, I&NS 12.3, "Field Security was that arm of the Intelligence Corps whose job it was to ensure the security of British troops in the field." The function included both passive (physical security) and active counterespionage work. This volume brings together "the testimonies of 43 FS personnel who served with Field Security between 1940 and the early 1950s ... and cover[s] virtually every area of active service during the years 1940-45," as well as other areas in the years immediately following the war. The reviewer, a former FS NCO, recommends the book as "a remarkable collection of reminiscences, and an excellent picture, of one of the most effective and unconventional branches of British Military Intelligence."

Stewart-Richardson, Peter. "Special forces (1939-1975)." In Second to None: The Coldstream Guards, 1650-2000, ed. Julian Paget, 151-185. London: Leo Cooper, 2000.

According to Royal Historical Society Database, the period covered here is "1939-1975" and the subjects are "Coldstream Guards; Parachute Regiment; Ski battalion; Glider Pilot Regiment; Long Range Desert Group."

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