Intelligence and Strategy in World War II

  • Ralph Bennett
Part of the RUSI Defence Studies book series (RUSIDS)


The fashion in spy stories, which began with Ian Fleming 30 years ago and has since changed only in the complexity of detail woven by his successors, has distorted the popular view of intelligence in war. Sir John Masterman’s Double Cross System did not help when it linked secret agents with some of the critical events of 1939–45, and the myriad ‘revelations’ of recent years have kept the ball rolling in the wrong direction. The cumulative effect has been to spread a romantic but erroneous idea of the way in which intelligence is obtained and how it can affect action. When the existence of Ultra — no spy indeed, but a highly secret and unsuspected source — was first revealed in 1974, there were some who said that the whole history of the war would have to be rewritten, and their cries are only now dying down. Underlying all has sometimes been the assumption that one side has only to discover the other side’s intentions in order to thwart them — that is to say, that intelligence is the main, if not the sole, determinant of military action. It is a grave error.1 So too is another, which often accompanies it. Intelligence-gathering is not, as this line of thought assumes, the sudden discovery of a single all-revealing item, but in most cases the laborious piecing together of maddeningly irreconcilable fragments.


Grand Strategy Covert Action Military Intelligence Intelligence Officer German Troop 
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  1. 2.
    For instance, Roy Godson (ed.), Intelligence Requirements for the 1980s: Elements of Intelligence (1979), and Professor Godson’s chapter in this book.Google Scholar
  2. 58.
    Intelligence provides no sufficient warning of the Russian attack in General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War (Sphere edn 1979, pp. 123–6, 134–5).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal United Services Institute 1987

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  • Ralph Bennett

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