To Complete the Jigsaw : British Military Intelligence in the First World War
From tragic beginnings at Crimea to the groundbreaking work of the First World War, To Complete the Jigsaw traces the development of British military intelligence and the role it played in supplying vital information to the war effort. Whilst the histories of MI5 and MI6 have been well documented, the story of the officers and NCOs who pioneered army intelligence and security has remained largely untold. Introducing new techniques such as counter-intelligence, protective security, wireless interception and aerial photography, their dynamism prepared the ground for victory and the platform for modern military intelligence.
Nicholas van der Bijl BEM chronicles the rise of intelligence on the Western Front, at Gallipoli, in the Middle East and in East Africa. For the first time ever, this comprehensive book puts together the previously lost pieces of the jigsaw that was military intelligence during the First World War.
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Intelligence, that is knowledge of the enemy's activities, locations and strength, is a key aspect of military planning. The whole aspect of intelligence in the Second World War, in all its various guises, has been thoroughly explored by academics and popular historians alike.
The story of intelligence in the Great War, however, has hardly been told. And yet it was just important then as in Hitler's War and considerably more difficult to obtain. Thousands of soldiers' lives were sacrificed in trench raids in the hope of taking prisoner German soldiers who might tell the intelligence officers simple facts like who was stationed opposite the British trenches. Complex operations were set up in occupied Belgium and Luxembourg to pass details of trains carrying trains and munitions, which might be weeks out of date once they had reached the Allies. The intelligence provided to Haig overestimated German casualties during the Battle of Passchendaele, which meant that Haig, and particularly the politicians in London, discounted the many warnings received about the strength of the German armies prior to the Spring Offensive in March 1918 with almost calamitous results. Perhaps more successful was the Admiralty's Room 40 who read most German signals sent overseas including the Zimmerman Telegram which was instrumental in bringing the Americans into the War in April 1917.
It does not help researchers that so many of the records have long since been destroyed. Few if any records of MI5 and MI6 survive, and there is a paucity of other material at Kew. So this book offers a useful introduction covering all the major aspects of the intelligence in the War. It is doubly useful because it covers all the 'sideshows' in Africa, Gallipoli and Palestine. Sensibly the author rather dismisses T E Lawrence's reputation as a gather of information from the Turks. But the book suffers from being badly proofread and needs better editing. And the author's prose style is pedestrian at best. Too much of it reads like one of the intelligence reports he prepared when he was an Army officer. Even so it is an important contribution to an aspect of the First World War where more research is need to 'complete the jigsaw'.
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