David Stafford is an historian with a range of intelligence related books to his credit. It is therefore no surprise that this particular book brings together pieces of an otherwise unopened jigsaw puzzle and builds a picture of Winston Churchill’s relationship with the British Secret Services of MI5, MI6 and those secret departments associated with them.
Focusing on intelligence, Stafford introduces Churchill in his early years as a journalist and a soldier fighting in the Boer War, and follows his political career through two World Wars and beyond into the early 1950s. He highlights the character of the man and his often rocky relationships and frustrations with colleagues, fellow politicians, world leaders and war-time allies. He confirms Churchill’s appetite for intelligence; the desire for that inside knowledge of both ally and enemy alike, and maps out Churchill’s determination to mould the embryonic secret intelligence services.
A strong supporter of the formation of the Secret Service Bureau in 1909, particularly the counter espionage section later known as MI5, which was headed by Vernon Kell; Churchill advocated the amendments to the Official Secrets Acts of 1911 and 1920, and introduced measures to intercept and read other peoples’ communications. It was to this end that Churchill endorsed the setting up of “Room 40” in the Admiralty in order to break into intercepted enciphered messages, and confirms his continued relationship with its successor, the Government Code & Cypher School, which he fought to keep under the wing of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), created in 1919.
"It is not always appreciated what good use Churchill made of the covert intelligence supplied to him during the Wilderness Years. There were several sources, Desmond Morton, SqrdL Torr Anderson, Gp Cpt MacLean, and Ralph Wigram among them so that Churchill had and used to great effect the comparison of Luftwaffe strength and production with that of the RAF"
As leader of the 1939-45 war-time coalition government, Churchill became a prime customer of the Government Code & Cyphers School’s intelligence, demanding that all decrypted raw messages from its war-time base at Bletchley Park be sent through to him. With insight and knowledge Churchill used the information to impress and coerce his allies and outsmart his enemies. Yet such secret knowledge often led to frustrations where no amount of persuasion could convert others to Churchill’s belief and his way of thinking.
In a mix of politics, personalities and war, Stafford draws on Churchill’s own experiences and the lessons he learned. Not shirking from depicting human faults and failings, Stafford provides the reader with an all round picture of a man who knew the value of intelligence, counter espionage and where necessary, the use of sabotage.
Churchill did not suffer fools gladly and many found themselves unwittingly on the receiving end of his wrath. Yet, where necessary, he managed to overcome the strain of working with others of whom he disapproved. There were, however many who Churchill respected and their personal, political and working relationship stood the test of time. One such individual was Commander Travis, head of the war-time Government Code & Cypher School.
This is an excellent and highly informative read, supported by a wealth of evidence and references.