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  • Intelligence Co-operation Between Poland and Britain During World War II: The Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee
  • Matthew Schwonek
Intelligence Co-operation Between Poland and Britain During World War II: The Report of the Anglo-Polish Historical Committee, Vol. 1. Edited by Tessa Stirling, Daria Nalecz, and Tadeusz Dubicki. Portland, Oreg.: Vallentine-Mitchell, 2005. ISBN 0-85303-656-X. Photographs. Notes. Index. Pp. xviii, 586. $95.00.

The Anglo-Polish Historical Committee was established in 1999 following inquiries into the fate of documents of the Polish Government-in-Exile's intelligence agencies, which had been transferred to the British Special Intelligence Service (SIS) after the Second World War. Subsequently the committee took up not just the task of locating sources but also assessing the wide-ranging, wartime intelligence cooperation between Poland and the United Kingdom. The nineteen-member committee included the chief archivists of both countries as well as luminaries such as the late Jan Nowak-Jezioranski (one of the underground couriers who carried word of the Holocaust to Allied leaders). Polish researchers combed archives in Poland, the U.K., and the United States, while British members scoured repositories in England, including records of the SIS heretofore off limits. The current volume contains the results of these investigations. This thorough accounting consists of fifty-nine separate chapters dealing with sources, historical background, the organization of the Polish intelligence services, British intelligence agencies, relationships between the various branches, operation of Polish field stations, the Polish Home Army's activities, and the achievements of this cooperation. This volume is to be followed by a second that will reproduce key documents from British and Polish collections.

A simple description of the project, however lofty its origins and imposing its product, cannot fully capture the importance of this contribution to studies of intelligence and the Second World War. East European specialists and Polonophiles will appreciate its recounting of the coups pulled off by Polish agents. These include not just cracking the puzzle of the Enigma enciphering machine, but also uncovering German preparations for the invasion of the Soviet Union, conveying data regarding the mass murder of the Jewish population of Europe, and the retrieval from a secret launch site and shipment [End Page 528] to the U.K. of a V-2 rocket. The authors furthermore reveal the role and contribution of Poles to be considerably greater than even such stunning gains suggest. British services were ill-prepared for the war, having few assets in Central and Eastern Europe, the very regions that became the cockpit of this conflagration. Polish stations and personnel, which were salvaged from the cataclysm of September 1939, filled this void until December 1944, when the Red Army's advance rendered such activity nugatory, while subjecting agents to Soviet repression. At the request of Allied services, Polish agents collected data on the Reich and occupied territories with respect to German Army dispositions, the movement of ships and activity in shipyards, the construction of aircraft and location of airfields, the economic situation and industrial production, as well as military and civilian morale. To plumb this immense enterprise is to come away with more than an appreciation of the Polish contribution to Allied victory. The individual studies contained herein illuminate the scope and complexity of intelligence work in the machine age and for total war. The item that perhaps sums up the nature of the enterprise is the figure of 80,000, which is the estimated number of reports Polish officials passed on to their British counterparts. Criticisms of the volume are mostly trivial. The questions of some will be unanswered. The Committee did not investigate why Polish cryptographers were sidelined by the British after passing on their early advances. Polish specialists will want to know what use the Government-in-Exile made of its signals and human intelligence. Several chapters on field stations amount to no more than a single-page, reporting the absence of any documents, but the rest more than make up for this. Military historians will appreciate the chapters on Polish organizations and activities by Andrzej Peplonski, the leading expert in the field. As one would expect with an undertaking of this sort, documentation...


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pp. 528-529
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Archived 2010
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