Tuesday, March 31

Wellington 's spy network History today

Boney brings the truth home from Spain (Satire on the Peninsular War), September 7, 1808. Library of Congress.

The old Army Staff College in Camberley said: Amateurs speak of tactics, professionals of logistics. Not that it mattered: the "right" officers continued to talk about tactics and left the logistics to the employees of the transport and ordnance corps.

It was not an exclusively British phenomenon. One of Hitler 's field marshals, Albert Kesselring, wrote after the war that teaching at the Berlin Staff Academy before 1914 was insufficient in too many practical areas, such as: "Everything that had to do with oil that soiled your fingers and disabled the tactician. " Strategist in free flight of his ideas & # 39 ;. He included intelligence in his list of neglected topics. Carl von Clausewitz had previously thought about the wars with revolutionary France and had been skeptical: Apart from a broad background information about the country in which the army was to fight: "The only situation that a commander can fully know is his own: that of his opponent he can only know of unreliable intelligence, and that more intelligence would make the commanders "more, not less, insecure".

But since Joshua conquered Canaan, intelligence or the lack of intelligence has proven to be the deciding factor. The Duke of Marlborough, Britain's greatest general, said: "Without good and early enlightenment, no war can ever be waged." If experts neglect the enlightenment too often, it is surprising that it is not always well represented in history their deeds? The historian has a particular problem anyway: gathering information is a secret, midnight process and, for the most part, quite modest. There are few records compared to actual battles, and commanders are not always open to writing their own intelligence and assessments. Sometimes the source of secret services had to be protected long after the conflict ended. The best example is "Ultra" – Bletchley Park's penetration of German signaling during the Second World War, which the Germans considered impenetrable due to the sophistication of their "Enigma" encryption machines. General Eisenhower said Ultra was crucial to the Allied victory. All reports about World War II, which were written before Ultra was released in the 1970s, are therefore partially incomplete. As Donald Rumsfeld famously put it, there are "known strangers" and "unknown strangers" (or at least in the latter category, only a few privileged).

Defense lecturer Huw Davies at King’s College, London, is working to fill this void regarding the Peninsular War, Napoleon's conflict with Portugal, Spain, and their ally Britain between 1807 and 1814. To date, historians have focused almost exclusively on Wellington's own information gathering system – his famous "exploration officers" and "guides" – and on people like Colonel George Scovell, who are the subject of Mark Urban's engaging book The man who broke Napoleon's codes – does not adequately take into account the government-sponsored civilian agent network organized by British diplomats in Lisbon and the provisional Spanish capital Cadiz.

The two networks provided Wellington with different but complementary types of information. The government network produced information about strategic capabilities, such as the strength of French troops in the south of France and throughout Spain, and about strategic intentions, while the military network collected tactical information – how many enemy troops were nearby, in what condition and for what purpose and so on. Wellington's challenge was to integrate these two types of information in order to get the clearest and most detailed picture possible so that he could create or adjust his plans. Overall, he was so successful that "Clausewitz came to his conclusions a little too quickly," said Davies.

By 1813, the Anglo-Portuguese army was probably the most efficient Britain had ever used. Wellington later said he could have taken it anywhere and done anything with it. Davies shows how much of this was thanks to the two secret services, particularly the Vitoria campaign, which ended the French south of the Pyrenees.

But the following year, 1814, the army would point the way to virtually any British army before or since there was peace: dispersal or dissolution. When Bonaparte fled Elba in 1815 and an ad hoc Anglo-Dutch-Belgian army was assembled in the Netherlands, Wellington had the same problems with gathering information that he had in Spain but without the time to overcome it. When Bonaparte marched across the border on June 15 and Wellington found out about it at the Duchess of Richmond ball, his reaction was: "Napoleon cheated on me!" The intelligence agency and his own judgment had failed him. This was the main reason that Waterloo was an obvious thing.

After Waterloo the army was further reduced and with it the active news gathering. Davies quotes former GCHQ officer Michael Herman, author of Intelligence agency in peace and war (1996): "The wars demonstrated the use of intelligence, but contributed little to institutionalization." It would take another hundred years for the News Corps to form – in desperate haste in August 1914, before being reformed in 1929 in extremis again in 1940.

The value of this book is to explain Wellington's peninsula campaign in the longer historical context of dealing with British secret services, particularly what is due to the techniques developed in Spain to restart the military news gathering in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So it not only serves as a story, but also as an instruction. The British Army would do well to get every officer to read this excellent book.

Espionage for Wellington: British Secret Service in the Peninsular War
Huw J. Davies
University of Oklahoma Press
328 pp £ 30

Allan Mallinson is the author of Too important for the generals: to lose and win the First World War (Transworld, 2016).

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