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Michael Collins: Britain's Counterinsurgency Failure Hardcover – 1 Oct 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Potomac Books Inc (1 Oct. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597975354
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597975353
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 16.4 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,016,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Much has been written about Michael Collins's intelligence genius, but this is the first attempt by an intelligence professional to detail and to critically appraise Britain's attempts at response to it. A picture of official disorganization, interagency rivalry, and amateurism emerges, redeemed at times by acts of personal bravery and initiative. A valuable and succinct account, "Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War" narrates the emergence of many of the operational and structural ground rules that even yet underpin effective intelligence and counterintelligence work." Conor Brady, former editor of the "Irish Times" and historian of policing in Ireland--Conor Brady"

About the Author

J. B. E. Hittle received his master's degree in modern European history from Louisiana State University, where his research focused on the polemics of Irish Marxist James Connolly. A highly decorated veteran of the U.S. clandestine service, his intelligence career spanned thirty years. He is an acknowledged expert on insurgency, counterinsurgency, low-intensity conflict, counterterrorism, and counterproliferation.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By P. J. Connolly on 14 Jan. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
There is much to admire and like about this book. It is well written and provides a genuinely new and insightful perspective on the intelligence war in Ireland between 1919 and 1921. It has the clearest and most authoritative explanation I have ever read of the various strands of the British intelligence agencies involved in the struggle against the IRA. That alone is no mean feat given their complexity and the absence of much original resource material. The Author has read widely and clearly thought deeply about this conflict and the way each side pursued its aims. As a professional intelligence officer himself he brings an insider's analysis whilst as an american he has the advantage of avoiding any national partiality.

In the end though the book does not quite work for a number of reasons. Firstly, I think it was a mistake to centre it on Michael Collins. He was a towering figure and the most charismatic of the IRA leaders and certainly in his insight and organisational skills there were times when he was the key element in making the difference between success and failure. However he was not a one man band and if he had been caught or killed the Irish Revolution would have been seriously weakened but it would not have stopped or been defeated. Just as with his death in 1922 when the Free State went on to win the Civil War without him, others would have stepped forward to carry on the struggle. They may have lacked his genius and capability but the momentum was with them. The question of Britain's counterinsurgency failure is wider than the issue of solely the intelligence war or Michael Collins part in it. Most of the book addresses the latter issues and it is really only in the final chapter that the Author gets to grips with the wider picture.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Frederick St John Smythe on 22 July 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hittle writes as an intelligence professional. This, he claims, allows him a level of insight denied to mere journalists and historians. For the most part, this book doesn't quite meet this bar. It's not a bad book, and his delineation of the various strands of the British intelligence apparatus in Ireland is insightful and clear. The individual profiles of the British agents targeted on Bloody Sunday are extremely interesting and informative. I have not seen them written about in such detail elsewhere.

All that said, Hittle mostly re-hashes history that has been written more elegantly elsewhere. Some of the Americanisms and failure to spell local names and places correctly grates on the reader - he writes of Sir Warren "Fischer" instead of Fisher, and mentions Boole when presumably he means either Bootle or Poole. As another commenter observes, to compare the Auxiliaries to the Einsatzgruppen, who murdered Jews by the tens of thousands, is simply ludicrous.

Furthermore, the rather dry, and at times repetitive, intelligence analysis makes this a somewhat slower read than, say, Michael Foy's book on Collins and the Intelligence War. This is by no means a bad book, but Foy covers almost precisely the same turf with considerably more flair and is probably the better bet if you only wish to splash out on one book on this topic.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Tommy Reilly on 27 Jun. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first reading I had on Michael Collins was Tim Pat Coogans biography of the commander in chief. I have since read many other books on MIck but I will say now that J.B.E. Hittles latest is a classic read. Michael Collins and the Anglo Irish war is written by a man highly decorated a veteran of US intelligence, served in militaryy intelligence he is well equipped to make a study of the Anglo Irish war. Hittle pulls no punches in assessing the failures of the British as well as Mick's intelligence force. The book covers the ugliness of this war it also gives great detail of Michael Collins involvement in the war against the tans ,auxileries and British army of the time. It gives quotes from many involved at the time .Lloyd George cabinet members Churchill and many of the Irish heroes of this war.I am fascinated with this work and also praise the effort and time spent putting this classic together. There will be more coverage of Michael Collins in the coming years and also of the troubles of 1916 and the years that followed. It will soon be the centenary of the Easter Rising and the efforts of many who brought Ieland back to the Irish. I look forward to more good reading. As well as learning the history of my father and mothers country of birth it is an education I relish . I do strongly recommend this book to everyone who has Irish blood running in their veins . You will enjoy this classic.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 13 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Highly recommended 2 Jan. 2012
By Ron Fritze - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Americans live in a society that often has little regard for the lessons of history. The study of history is deemphasized in school and college curriculums while the History Channel has drifted into such inspired programming as Ice Road Truckers and Ancient Aliens. Yet as experience and memory are essential for an individual's survival and success, so a knowledge of history is essential for a society and a nation's survival and success. J. B. E. Hittle's Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War is a fine example of history that informs and enlightens the reader, it also teaches some valuable lessons about fighting terrorism and insurgency.
Hittle's book is not a biography of Michael Collins or a survey of the war that raged in Ireland from 1919 to 1921. Rather it is a study of the struggle between the Irish nationalists and the British to achieve and maintain superior intelligence about their opponent. The English had dominated the Irish since the seventeenth century and had transformed the Ireland into a colony--a very unhappy colony. Ireland experienced a rebellion against English rule about every generation but they all failed. England possessed massive military superiority but equally important, the English maintained a system of spies and informers that allowed them to nip Irish uprisings in the bud. Geographically, Ireland was essential to England's security, so it was fully incorporated into the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1801. The hope was that the Irish would become British but they didn't. The Potato Famine and the Irish cultural renaissance combined to reignite Irish discontent with British rule. The British government promised home rule for Ireland but the advent of World War I put that plan on hold and the Easter Uprising of 1916 followed. It was a failure because the Irish rebels tried to take on the British army in a stand-up fight even though they were outnumbered and outgunned. World War I continued to impact events in Ireland because in 1918, a desperate British government tried to institute military conscription in Ireland. That decision thoroughly alienated the Irish people and a renewed insurrection began in 1919.
Michael Collins rose to be the leader of violent resistance to British rule. He took a new approach to fighting the British. First, he avoided direct military engagements with the British military unless Irish forces possessed the advantage. Second, he created a highly effective intelligence organization for the Irish republican cause. Collins went after the British system of spies and informers and the Royal Irish Constabulary using boycott, intimidation, and assassination of Irish loyalists and British officials and military men. He also was quite successful in infiltrating his own people into the British intelligence organizations. His tactics were so successful that they have been widely imitated by the British intelligence services and other revolutionary movements ever since.
In the realm of popular history, Michael Collins is remembered as a great fighter and man of action while the Anglo-Irish War is depicted as a succession of heroic gunfights. As Hittle clearly demonstrates, the Anglo-Irish War was a gritty struggle of ambushes and assassinations in which the side with the best intelligence won the individual fights. Hittle shows his reader a complex Michael Collins. He was charismatic and a patriot. Fearless, loyal to his friends, and possessing immense charm, he was also ruthless and willing to use violence to achieve Irish independence. Unlike some individuals, Collins did not revel in violence and cruelty. They were means to his ends, not ends in themselves. His goal was to wear the British down in a war of attrition. The Anglo-Irish war was a cruel war. Both sides committed atrocities as Hittle clearly shows. But Hittle does not engage in misplaced moralization. As an experienced intelligence officer, Hittle knows that war is cruel and wars in the shadows are particularly cruel.
Hittle also does not romanticize Michael Collins. He was brave and smart but his true genius lay in identifying the weaknesses of the British and exploiting them. Besides employing the right strategy, Collins benefited from some significant advantages. First, his fighters possessed the hearts and minds of the great majority of the Irish people from the start of the insurrection. Heavy-handed tactics by the British only helped the nationalist cause retain the support of the Irish people. Furthermore, the British intelligence organization suffered from a confused organizational structure, bad higher level leadership, and too much political interference.
Hittle gives both sides due respect. There were men and women on both sides who were brave and dedicated. Although the British intelligence efforts have been often depicted as bumbling Hittle rejects this characterization. He points out that after Collins had masterminded the collapse of the pre-war British intelligence system, incoming British intelligence officers faced an extremely difficult task in a very hostile environment. Despite this unfavorable situation, by deploying massive amounts of resources, British intelligence was grinding down Collins's organization by the time a peace settlement was negotiated.
Prior to reading Hittle's book, my knowledge of Anglo-Irish war in general and Michael Collins in particular was limited. Thanks to Hittle's lucid prose and clear organization, I have a much better understanding of the causes and the course of the Anglo-Irish war and the role of Michael Collins. I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in Irish history and the history of intelligence work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War: Britain's Counterinsurgency Failure 12 Jan. 2012
By Danny - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Over the years I've read and seen a great deal about Michael Collins. This book provides the reader with a unique assessment of Collins and the Anglo-Irish conflict, and could only be produced by someone with Mr. Hittle's background. The author couples his solid and extensive intelligence experience with historical events, resulting in an interesting and educational read.

Of particular interest to me, a Vietnam veteran, is the author's observation that Ho Chi Minh incorporated tactics first developed by Collins to achieve success against the French and Americans. This book should be required reading at the military War Colleges.

Colonel Danny Hollon, USAF (Ret)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish Conflict 15 May 2015
By Roosevelt Adrianza - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish Conflict.
Hard Cover. By RAA/0251

This book is an excellent read and an absolutely well written “Case Study” model of Irelands Michael Collins’ IRA Insurgency against British rule from the failed “Easter Uprising” of 1916 through Britain’s Lloyd Georges’ hard-line military centric approach of an eroded, frustrated, failed policy and governance that led to Britain’s departure of Ireland in 1922.

The author, Mr. J.B.E. Hittle, a former Agency Officer and Highly Decorated Professional with an unquestionable background and experience does a phenomenal job writing about a master mind, Michaels Collins and his many achievements, attributes and failures, while Britain’s Intelligence and Police services battled against (him) Ireland’s IRA. In my view Michael Collins is not presented, as some would think, as a “Robin Hood” or hero, but rather, a charismatic, ruthless, uniquely intelligent, self-educated, key player of the IRB, IRA and the Sinn Fein organization. Michael Collin’s finance experience before 1916 was an important tool positioning him as the IRA’s Minister of Finance, eventually posturing him for greater responsibilities in the ranks of the IRA. I found it interesting that many interrogatives exist with regards to the depth of his intelligence preparation that led him to become IRA’s Intelligence Chief. A formidable opponent who strategically waged a ruthless insurgency in an urban environment he very well understood. Michael Collins and his subordinate's ability to plan and execute successful engagements against a greater resourced British army and civilian intelligence service and police force is admirable knowing the limited resources they had. It’s also interesting to note how he frustrated and demoralized the Brit’s continuously forcing their hand in re-shaping their tactics, shuffling of manpower and replacing it’s leadership when surprised by ruthless attacks and assassinations of British Civilian Secret Service agents, military intelligence officers, RIC police officers and stations. The man had a talent for conducting counterintelligence and clandestine operations alongside a charismatic trait for recruiting British agents of high value embedded within the highest levels of Britain’s government with direct placement and access.

Overall, Mr. Hittle provides a really good assessment of multiple historical issues from this war in his book. Britain’s Civil-Military intelligence and law enforcement’s policy, strategy, failed leadership practices leading to Britain’s Reorganization of their Intelligence Architecture. Interesting lesson of comparison to the U.S.’s reorganization of the DNI after 9/11 and the challenges posed by policy and directorship changes that took place to bring those intelligence agencies under one umbrella. The careful research lends to this interesting analytical validation of historical events from records; memoirs; after action reports; lessons learned; as other personal historical research of data. I particularly enjoyed the historical analysis of Britain’s aggressive form of military centric rule of Ireland and the IRA’s persistent method of battle, a failed insurgency fought for freedom and control over their political destiny. Conversely, this book touches on a macro–global comparison of certain “hot-spots” in crisis that exist in at least a dozen countries around the globe.

I truly enjoyed reading this book and recommend it for its historical value in addition to clearly serving as an excellent “Case Study” model for Military Leaders, Intelligence Analysts, Counterintelligence and HUMINT professionals.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Powerful analysis of the enigmatic 'Mick' and his worlds 23 Nov. 2011
By W. Hennessy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Now a few years after its publication, this book remains fresh and valuable.

Like countless others, Collins was first really brought fully to life for me by Coogan's brilliant 1990 biography. That book remains a classic. Many more biographies of the man and many more histories of the Anglo Irish War were to follow in Coogan's wake, some raising controversies that perhaps obscured their subject as much as they elucidated it and some certainly contributed to deeper understanding, but in truth, for me, many disappointed.

This book presents a careful, seasoned and objective analysis that relies on evidence and rational probability to tease apart the murky worlds Collins moved in, rather than just accepting tired or partisan accounts that had been heavily repeated, sometimes with little real new questioning. Neither is there any hint of a political agenda,conscious or otherwise, to glorify Collins beyond what his remarkable talents deserve and indeed Collins' own shortcomings, the role of sheer luck and British organizational chaos are laid out clinically without fear or favour.

For all that, there is no glossing over the tragedies and the sheer ugliness of that conflict. The treatment is cool but it is never cold.

This is a hard and mature assessment that puts to the sword some of the pantomime caricatures of Collins we have endured -alternately presented as a hero with superhuman attributes, an inflated fraud and worse.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The best book on Collins's war yet penned 28 Oct. 2013
By Sgt. Rock - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I greatly enjoyed insightful book because it analyses Michael Collins, the IRA, and the British efforts to deny them freedom by an intelligence professional who has fought in this arena himself. Author J.B.E Httle is a decorated intelligence veteran who has served in US intelligence as both an analyst and case officer. His area of specialty in insurgency, counter insurgency and low intensity conflict. Two great lessons from this book are that the British waged a war against civilians in the hope of cowing the Irish people this fatally flawed strategy guaranteed that if an IRA flying column was wiped-out another would quickly rise to take it's place. The British fundamentally failed to understand the most basic tenets of guerrilla war that it is primarily a political struggle for the loyalty of the people. Secondly, in a low intensity conflict where the survival of one or two key leaders determines the success of the movement such as Michael Collins during the Anglo Irish War the use of counterintelligence takes on the utmost importance. The British intelligence and military establishment failed terribly at this in regards to Collins.
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