Skip to content

British Naval Intelligence—an epic and transfixing story

9 November 2021

British Naval Intelligence Through the Twentieth Century, Andrew Boyd, 2020, ISBN 978-1-5267-3659 8, 776 pp.

Andrew Boyd authored a fantastic read which is chock full of knowledge, insight and understanding. The title suggests its thrust has a British-centric perspective but it is not to be taken as singular or close-minded. Boyd not only brings in the human dimension to this fascinating history—he also mixes in understanding of politics and economics as vital and inseparable parts of an unfolding history. Readers will better understand the motivations of Russia, France, Italy, the United States and Japan as well as Great Britain—through their national personalities as well as each’s economic and political developments. British Naval Intelligence is refreshing in seeking and obtaining an all-around understanding and not simply tunneling through data, dates and descriptions.Intriguingly, Boyd initially teases us with the 007 question hidden in plain sight, “Why did James Bond hold a rankin the Royal Navy while working in the civilian MI-6?” Well…author Ian Fleming has a lot to do with that as is recalled beginning in the 1940s portion of the book. Fleming thought up innovative and ruthless plans in his career with British Naval Intelligence, and this book tell the tale.

Back in the day Britain conceptualized and brought forth a naval intelligence service due to her expansive empire across the globe beginning two centuries ago. As technology changed, making communications as well as warships faster, British Naval Intelligence developed in earnest. Consisting of more than a few agencies and staffed by sometimes curious but always highly intelligent people, Boyd follows the trail of an evolving national asset with clarity and detail.

Surprises abound throughout. Britain’s 19th Century strategy to control access to foreign coaling stations as a means to effectively blockade foreign navies. World War I undersea communication cable cutting (and quick replacement) sometimes by use of submarines. The amount of code breaking done by so many countries—including England’s breaking United States diplomatic codes in the early 20th Century. Seemingly the best location to find spies being consulates and embassies. 

Indeed, Boyd also understands the World War II German Navy’s U-boat effort in detail with production numbers and losses—not to mention the economic and industrial strategies employed by the Axis as well as the Allies. Boyd convincingly has the numbers which illustrate that U-boat losses were always high and the Battle for the Atlantic was a closely run thing. Just one more myth-ending historical clarification Boyd provides. He also notes that no U-boat which entered the Mediterranean Sea ever made it back out—illustrating the author’s attention to the impact of intelligence, or its lack.

Boyd takes his readers through the 1980s and revolution in the redesign of submarines to also include intelligence gathering platform as part of the mission profile. Many of the mission descriptions are incredible in their daring as well as advanced technology.

Andrew Boyd could hardly be more accomplished or qualified to address such a comprehensive and complex subject area and we are fortunate he accepted this work. British Naval Intelligence belongs on the shelves of so many interests, for example: submarines, World Wars I and II, 19th and 20th Century history, political and economic sciences, and human interest (this book is packed with it). 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. theflyingyorkshireman permalink
    10 November 2021 03:21

    Good show, Joe! I shall share this with Doc Brown, who has an abiding interest in submarine warfare – and when I return from La-La Land I will be looking to read this comprehensive work.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      10 November 2021 11:44

      Thank you so much David. Travel well and I trust you both will throughly enjoy this book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: