The Intelligencers British Military Intelligence from the Middle Ages to 1929
by Brigadier Brian Parritt
Published by Pen and Sword (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk)
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The usage of an Intelligence Corps in the modern army is an established tool that is used to help war-fighting. However the usage of an intelligence system in both collating data and briefing commanders has not always been a coherent part of the British Army or its long term strategy. Indeed the British Army did not originally have an intelligence system but it evolved one over time.
Often the intelligence systems were created for the “duration” of a war / conflict and disbanded as soon as peace was established. This system did not prove to be ideal and eventually the Army developed a standing Intelligence function but this took place only after World War 1.
Knowledge about the enemy is a vital and critical part of any war or battle. Information on its strength, dispositions and intentions are fundamental to success in battles. This exciting book has been written by a former Director of the Intelligence Corps and it will appeal to both specialists in this field as well as those interested in intelligence matters.
The author shows how over a period of 250 years the British Army resolutely refused to create a small nucleus of trained officers for intelligence duties during both peace and war. In the book this attitude is proven as a strategic deficiency. The author also compares the British case to foreign forces and this deficiency is illuminated as a major disadvantage at the outbreak of various hostilities.
In the early years Scoutmasters (often recruited from “locals”) were established and there were some secret spy networks but in none of the major battles of the 1800s such as the Peninsula, Crimea and the other Empire winning wars was there a staff branch or dedicated unit for the collation of data on the enemy or for counter-espionage.
The book shows how the British intelligence system changed from brave and enterprising individuals acting almost independently to having dedicated staff. Scoutmasters were used to gather data on the King’s enemies and the development of Walsingham’s secret organisation during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign was in essence the childhood of the British intelligence system. During the Napoleonic Wars spymasters were developed on an ad hoc basis and into the 19th century there was still no central intelligence function.
Failures in intelligence during the Boer War caused huge costs in terms of losses of manpower, strategic position and equipment. It took until the Great War for there to be a dedicated branch but even that was disbanded post-war. These exciting periods are eloquently described in the text. If you have any interest in the development of intelligence systems and their “good management” then this book by a former Director of Intelligence comes highly recommended. It has many lessons for modern intelligence systems and it is highly entertaining.