Wissen ist menschlich. Der Stellenwert der Human Intelligence in der britischen Kriegsführung 1939–1945

Bell, Falko (2014) Wissen ist menschlich. Der Stellenwert der Human Intelligence in der britischen Kriegsführung 1939–1945. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow and the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU)..

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3060574


This thesis examines the use of prisoners of war (POWs), agents and other groups of persons as source of information in the British conduct of war against Germany during the Second World War and demonstrates its significance. While the successes of Bletchley Park in decrypting German wireless traffic are well-known, human intelligence (HUMINT) has received considerably less scholarly attention. During the years 1939 to 1945, the British used an extensive espionage network, maintained informal contacts in neutral cities, and questioned refugees, convicted enemy spies and soldiers who had escaped from German captivity. Most notably, the military services established a far-reaching system of interrogation facilities to obtain intelligence from German prisoners of war in all theatres of war. These activities provided a valuable amount of intelligence on German weaponry, tactics, plans and mentality, which not only constituted useful background information in rapidly changing war conditions but also improved decision-making processes and resulting actions.
During the past decades, the main focus of academic research lay on signals intelligence and its influence on British strategy and operations which resulted in a neglect of other forms of intelligence. Recent academic research has not only emphasised a more holistic view of intelligence and its impact on warfare but also points to several successful HUMINT operations such as the international cooperation in espionage and the so-called Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre, United Kingdom (CSDIC(UK)). At the same time, studies in intelligence provide an extensive framework dealing with various theoretical, practical and ethical aspects which facilitates the analysis of intelligence in historical context. In light of these developments and the unprecedented access to archival material, a re-evaluation of the role of human intelligence in Great Britain during the Second World War is necessary.
This thesis combines the theoretical approaches of intelligence with an examination of the organisation of human intelligence during wartime. It utilises three case studies covering the tactical, operational and strategic level of war. First, it offers a model of “main areas”, collection, analysis, dissemination and use, to examine the intelligence process in historical context. These elements constitute a set of interacting steps which describe the way from a specific piece of raw material to its use as human intelligence in decision-making. The human origin influences the characteristics of the intelligence process such as the interaction of individuals during collection, the inherent problem of reliability and accuracy, and the question of acceptance by potential users. The model also serves as a basis for an evaluation scheme: the internal value addresses the intelligence process itself, whereas the external value measures the effect within decision-making and its impact on resulting actions.
Regarding the organisational aspect, the intelligence agencies responsible for human intelligence used their previous experience from the last war and grew significantly in size during the Second World War. The interrogation of prisoners of war consisted of a multi-step process with the CSDIC(UK) at the top, which over 10 000 POWs passed through. The combination of interrogation techniques – such as the omniscient trick and friendly approach, concealed microphones, and former refugees or prisoners acting as stool pigeons – resulted in a high output of accurate and appreciated HUMINT. The Secret Service (SIS) recovered after some setbacks at the beginning of the war and – supported by contacts in occupied territory – it was able to deliver reports covering a wide range of topics. In addition, the Security Service (MI5) and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) supplemented the work of the SIS – besides their primary objectives. In addition to the use of enemy prisoners and agents in the field, there were three other sources for HUMINT: the questioning of refugees in the specifically designed London Reception Centre, regular contacts with interned British soldiers and individual arrangements in neutral countries, most notably in Sweden and Switzerland, which provided the Foreign Office with news of varying quality.
The outcome of these extensive efforts is discussed in the three case studies. The tactical example deals with the defence against German attacks during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz in 1940/1941. POW Intelligence supplemented the other sources of intelligence with the perspective of the enemy: it provided actual data on armament, armour and equipment of German bomber and fighter aircraft; it added details on the order of battle and combat readiness of the German Luftwaffe; and it gave insight into enemy tactics, targeting and the effectiveness of British countermeasures. Therefore, HUMINT made a valuable contribution to the overall intelligence picture which supported and optimised the efforts of Fighter Command. It helped to prepare fighter pilots for their engagements with the enemy and to counter new tactics and technologies such as navigational aids for night bombing.
The operational case study covers the detection of the German plans to use a liquid rocket and cruise missile (the so called V-weapons V1 and V2) against British cities, where human intelligence played a key role. In early 1943, SIS reports and secret records of conversations between German POWs convinced the authorities in London of the danger of a long range weapon of a new type. HUMINT later gave indications of the existence of two distinct weapons and the V1 firing system in Northern France. In 1944, it provided details on the characteristics and launching procedures of the V2. These contributions enabled the British not only to direct other intelligence resources such as aerial reconnaissance towards the new threat but also to develop effective offensive and defensive countermeasures. These delayed the deployment of the two weapons and significantly reduced the inflicted damage.
The strategic example deals with the British efforts to assess the state of morale of the German military and civilian population. This aspect was primarily covered by human intelligence. Although the amount of raw material gradually expanded and the analytical methods became more sophisticated – especially after the drastic increase of prisoner of war interrogations after D-Day –, the impact of HUMINT remained ambivalent. Until 1943, preconceived opinions about an inferior German morale and an especially vulnerable civilian population were not altered by intelligence products provided by the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee and a separate “morale committee”. The conviction in the second half of 1943 that Germany would collapse from within as it had happened in 1918 was the most visible result. In the following months, intelligence analysis improved considerably and finally falsified previous hopes; however, that development did not restrain British authorities from over-enthusiastic expectations of a rapid end of war in the summer of 1944. Ultimately, human intelligence provided a considerable insight into the inner state of the enemy, but the intelligence task to detect a predefined collapse and the attempt to conceive an elaborated concept of morale overburdened the intelligence services.
This thesis combines theoretical approaches with a historical analysis and shows that human intelligence was a powerful force multiplier which the British early recognized and successfully utilized. Therefore, this thesis offers a new perspective on British intelligence and military history during the Second World War. Furthermore, it seeks to contribute to general discussions about the relevance of intelligence in decision-making up to the present day.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: The work is part of the joint research programme (PhD) of the University of Glasgow and the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.
Keywords: human intelligence, Second World War, Great Britain, Germany, interrogation, prisoner of war, espionage, Battle of Britain, The Blitz, V-weapons, morale
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D731 World War II
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: O'Brien, Dr Phillips
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Falko Bell
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5382
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2014 09:00
Last Modified: 11 Jul 2019 07:55
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/5382

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