The Journal of Military History 70.2 (2006) 582-585
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Letters to the Editor
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To the Editor:
In your autumn 2005 issue (p. 1241) you carried a review by Ernest L. Bell of three books—two of which I edited and one which I wrote—on British signals intelligence in World War Two. I wish to respond to his comments about one of these books, The Official History of British Signals Intelligence 1914–1945, Vol I, Part I.
First, he refers to the book's period as "1944–1945" instead of "1914– 1945". This may be a typographical error, but might explain his comments. Then he wrongly calls the book "Volume 3" when it was Volume 3 of the Bletchley Archive series. The book itself is Vol I, Part I, signifying that there is more of Vol I and at least a further volume. In fact there are two more unpublished volumes to come as well as the completion of Volume I. Volume III, for example, covers the BRUSA agreement between the U.K. and the U.S.
Mr Bell complains that the role of the United States "is almost completely ignored" and that "one expects a full picture, not just one from the prejudiced British point of view." I do not know who is being criticised here—the Official Historian of British Sigint, Frank Birch, who wrote the original text, or myself as editor. Frank Birch, who headed the naval section at Bletchley Park during the war would, I am sure, have been extremely upset at any suggestion of anti-American bias. For myself, I feel the comment was ill-judged.
It is difficult to believe Mr Bell even looked at the book more than superficially. For example, the contents show that this volume ends in February 1942, just three months after the U.S. entered the war. To describe lack of U.S. coverage as "the prejudiced British point of view" clearly has no basis in fact. Moreover, I make clear in my introduction that:
Through the outstanding relationship that grew up between Britain and America over Signals Intelligence—or Sigint as it was more popularly known—came the post–World War Two co-operation between the two countries through the grim years of the Cold War and beyond into the new phenomenon of satellite communications and global terrorism. [End Page 582]
His comment that inter-service "bureaucratic bickering" could have lengthened or even possibly lost the war, is not remotely suggested by Frank Birch. Again, Mr Bell's comment that these "internal squabbles" might have caused a "serious disruption or even destruction of the ability to intercept the enemies' communications" is nowhere supported by the book's contents. Such inter-service rivalry was not uncommon in the military outside the U.K.—dare one suggest this was also sometimes apparent within the U.S. armed services?
The book is about British signals intelligence, and Bletchley Park is just one element in its coverage. Mr Bell does accept that the U.S. role at Bletchley is recognised in the other book I edited, The Secret War of Hut 3, which was also taken from the Official History, although it had several authors, all of whom were at Bletchley Park during the war. Finally, Mr Bell asks whether I edited or wrote the third book, Ultra's Arctic War. I wrote it.
Mr. Bell chose not to respond.
To the Editor:
I enjoy reading the issues of The Journal of Military History for many topics of interest, and others that provide pleasant journeys into subject areas about which I know little. The same can be said for most of the book reviews. One of the joys of retirement is the time to read more than just the things in one's field. A case in point was an article a few years...