The Secret War by Max Hastings

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  • Author:
    Max Hastings
    Spies , code breakers ,SOE ,Bletchley Park and Abwehr all danced in a web of deceit and confusion. On a combination of science and guess work the fates of Armies and nations hung in the balance.

    The Secret War attempts to pull all of this into a single comprehensive overview of Second World War Intelligence and special operations.
    Max Hastings sets himself a Herculean task to give sufficient depth to a vast subject, an undertaking that has undoubtedly been attempted badly by others.

    The book gives a very brief nod to pre war events but sensibly centres in on the war years. It is not a comprehensive narrative (could run to volumes) but rather seeks to see the war from both Axis and Allied perspectives. The timing is helped by the release of most of the Allied files and the Russian files released pre-Putin. The Japanese destroyed most of their files and have squirreled away the remainder.

    After all the attention given to Enigma and Bletchley Park , Hastings gives a more balanced view of signals intelligence , including traffic flow analysis that gave so much information when Enigma was unbroken. The war work of the Y service is often overlooked by less detailed books Some lessons are still relevant.

    Much is made of the inefficiencies of intelligence analysis and dissemination, intra service rivalry and empire building. This was on both sides throughout the war.

    In between the serious writing the author tucks a few fascinating nuggets; the story of Mrs Ferguson's tea set, the chivalrous Kriegsmarine officer and a wholesale compromise of British Far East secrets is one such!
    The book runs to 560 pages with an excellent list of sources and notes. There is a comprehensive index and illustrations are relevant and of good quality.

    The book is probably aimed at those with some knowledge of bits of the intelligence story and who want a publication that pulls the threads together.

    At £30 the book is good value and likely to appear on many Christmas present lists.

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  1. seaweed
    You got lucky, Molebath! I've just found a copy in our public library which will keep me busy for a bit.
  2. Condottiere
    Thanks for that, I shall be putting it on my Xmas wish list.

    About to get "Black Earth" by Timothy Snyder whose "Bloodlands" I thought was just brilliant.
    1. MoleBath
      Will have a look ,Bloodlands does seem to set the tone for the problems in Ukraine
      MoleBath, Oct 12, 2015
    2. baboon6
      Both very good books, two of the best written on the Holocaust that I have read.
      baboon6, Nov 8, 2016
  3. baboon6
    I also read this book recently and found it a good overview of intelligence in WW2 along with some very interesting anecdotes and details I hadn't known before such as stuff about the Red Orchestra and the life of Richard Sorge.
      MoleBath likes this.