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Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admiralty's Operational Intelligence Centre, 1939-1945 Hardcover – 15 Feb 2000

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Greenhill Books; New edition edition (15 Feb. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1853673986
  • ISBN-13: 978-1853673986
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.8 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,588,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Operational Intelligence Centre was the nerve centre of British naval operations during World War II. Patrick Beesly served there from 1940 to 1945 and describes how intelligence was gathered and how it was used to thwart the Kriegsmarine.'

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A very readable book on a fascinating subject based on the author's personal experience of day to day operations tracking German maritime forces.
This is the story of how the results of Enigma decoding at Bletchley Park and other intelligence were used to plot the location and plans of the German Navy.
A useful reference book and a wonderful read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa35d28b8) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90fad3b4) out of 5 stars Brilliant, Relevant Today, OpIntel Thrills, Deep Insights 30 Sept. 2001
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a brilliant piece of work, and extremely relevant today. Had America had an Operational Intelligence (OpIntel) Plot (24/7 operationally-oriented put it all together all the time watch center), I daresay the terrorist attacks on America would have been prevented in good time.

I started reading this book the week prior to the attacks, having bought it off the shelves of the Army War College bookstore, whose judgment I have always respected, and I have been absolutely absorbed--thrilled--with the deep insights that this work provides on how best to manage an operationally-oriented watch center that does "all-source fusion" against a constantly changing real-time real-world threat.

It became clear to me as I worked through every word of this superior work that modern intelligence has become too bureaucratic and that all-source analysis has become too distant from both the sources and the consumers. The Operational Intelligence Center (OIC) whose story is told here worked with no fewer than seventeen distinct sources streams, each with its own idiosyncrasies, its own fits and starts--and it worked directly with its operational clients, fully appraised of friendly plans and intentions and able to provide workmanlike inputs at every turn. We need to get back to this approach!

There are a number of vital lessons to be learned from this book, which I recommend in the strongest terms as one of my "top ten" relevant *today*. Among them:

Sharing Secrets Matters. It was the Russians who helped the British get started in 1914 with a gift of a German Naval Signal book, and it was the Poles who saved the day early on in World War II with a gift of two working Enigma machines.

Ops Must Sleep With Intel. Too many times I have seen operators ignore intelligence because they do not understand it-there are too many breakdowns in communication along the way, and if the operators have not trained with, lived with, slept with, caroused with, their intelligence counterparts, the two cultures do not come together effectively in times of crisis.

Ops Cannot Do Raw Sources. The corollary of the above is that Ops simply cannot keep up with the nuances of sources and is not able to evaluate sources in context to good effect.

Intel Must Sleep With Ops. The intelligence propensity to compartment everything to the point of meaningless, and the "green door" mentality that is especially characteristic of the crypto-analysis community, amounts to a death wish. Some secret sources must be "ultra" secret, but some form of bridge is needed-the OpIntel Center (which the U.S. Navy, alone within today's US secret bureaucratic archipelago, does well) appears to be a vital and relevant solution.

Plots Must Be Co-Located and Ideally Integrated. Early separation and distance between the intelligence plot, the commercial shipping plot and the operational plot leads to waste and death. Ultimately an integrated plot, or at least a blue-green plot next door to the red plot, is absolutely vital to effective prosecution of real-time war.

Lose the Old Guys. The first thing that needs doing when preparing for a long war is to lose the old guys. No disrespect intended, but as has been documented time and again, those that get promoted in peacetime bureaucracies tend to be too conformist and too subservient to peacetime protocols to adapt well to unconventional and very fast-moving wartime conditions. [Present company always excepted!.]

Hire the Retired. This is not a contradiction. Old guys with big egos and high ranks have to go-but bringing in the best of the retired, generally at the field grade level, can have an extraordinary positive impact in the rapid maturation and stabilization of the full-speed-ahead wartime watch.

Doctrinal Disputes Kill. Unless there is a homeland defense doctrine that fully integrates and exercises the capabilities and internal cultures of the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, and civilian agencies (and civilian agencies!) there will be a year or two of major and almost catastrophic losses until it gets sorted out the hard way.

Home Arrogance Kills (UK Version). The persistent unwillingness of home side personnel to admit that their own security measures can be broken by clever enemies, and the general sloppiness of all hands with respect to Operations Security (OPSEC) will take a heavy toll.

Home Arrogance Kills (US Version). There is a theme with regard to the Americans. While their money and their manpower are gratefully accepted, their arrogance knows no bounds. They entered the war believing that there was nothing the British could teach them-further on into the war, the Americans risked Ultra by acting too aggressively on its information.

Red Cell Oversight Needed. One thing that jumped out at me from this book was the urgent need for having a very senior person-a retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for example, managing a Red Cell to provide oversight over operational decisions to exploit the most sensitive sources. [By this I mean, a senior authority who can overrule and forbid operations whose success might endanger the special source.]

Negative Reports Matter. I was really struck by the circumstances surrounding a German break-out up the Channel, in which a number of normally reliable and overlapping intelligence collection endeavors all were forced back by weather, broken down or what-not. From this I took the lesson that negative reports matter. By failing to report to the OIC on their non-status, they failed to focus the OIC on all the possibilities. Thinking the flank covered, the OIC left the flank open.

Tommy Brown Matters. The book ends on a marvelous note, pointing out that without the heroism of Tommy Brown, a 16 year old cabin boy and youngest recipient of the George Medal as well as two other adults who died in the process of grabbing vital enemy signals materials off a sinking vessel, the allies would have been deaf for much of 1943. At the end of the day the best technical intelligence comes down to a brave human who risks all to make it possible.

Most of my other reviews of intelligence non-fiction can be found by seeking out online

Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Intelligence (Most)

All reviews lead back to their Amazon page, and are sorted by category (e.g. all on CIA, on NSA, etcetera).

Best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x909b31c8) out of 5 stars Classic Operations-Intelligence Counter-deception 19 Mar. 2004
By Dr. Frank Stech - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The most successful Nazi naval operations depended on stealth (U-boats) and deception (commerce raiders). The Royal Navy's Operational Intelligence Center combined the Nazi "red side" intelligence with the Allied navies' "blue side" operational information to form a fused picture of the war at sea. Patrick Beesly was a verteran of the OIC, personnally responsible for hunting down Hitler's surface commerce raiders.
Beesly tells the counter-deception side of the surface raider story in his recently republished memoir: Very Special Intelligence: The story of the Admiralty's Operational Intelligence Center 1939-1945. Assigned to the Admiralty's OIC in June 1940, Beesley single-handedly took on tracking down the surface raiders.
The British code breakers never decrypted Cipher 100 or Tibet, the Enigma codes used by the raiders and their supply ships, while the frequent interruptions in the British ability to read the U-boat code Triton/Shark limited British opportunities to intercept rendezvous arrangements between the raiders and U-boats. The raiders zealously minimized transmissions and would steam miles after transmitting to defeat British direction finding. Because the raiders operated independently, they (unlike the U-boats) had little need to keep in touch with the Kriegsmarine headquarters.
Beesly and the OIC had almost nothing to go on, and initially could not even estimate the number of raiders. Beesly started slowly reconstructing the historical records of sinkings (where known), raider sightings, direction-finding cuts, time-distance estimates, and whatever intelligence flotsam seemed to point to the mysterious raiders. By May 1941, the code breakers had captured sufficient German code materials to begin reading the U-boat Enigma occasionally and were able to locate German supply ships.
After almost a year, Beesly had identified the seven raiders at sea, and in May 1941 published details on raider appearances, characteristic deception operations, and means to identify them. OIC established a central plot (Checkpoint) of all known friendly merchantmen and a real-time report to help wary ships confirm the identity of an unidentified vessel.
U-boat ULTRA intelligence occasionally helped find the raiders. The raider Atlantis, ordered to rendezvous with U-126 while steaming home, was sighted and sunk. Other U-boats, recovering Atlantis's survivors, led the British to a second raider supply ship, which was sunk. Decrypts helped sink eight of the supply ships. Sustaining the raiders at sea became problematic.
Of the seven raiders that slipped to sea undetected through 1940, four (Komet, Orion, Thor, Widder) were still afloat by the end of 1941, but all had returned to port. The OIC was able to monitor the work-ups of new raiders in German home waters through ULTRA, photoreconnaissance, and direction finding. When German raiders tried to run the gauntlet again in late 1941 and 1942, they were tracked down the Channel and harassed, with Komet sunk beginning her second cruise. By 1943, the German raider operations had ended.
Beesly's detailed account of his experiences in applying intelligence directly to ongoing naval operations is a model for effective operational and intelligence fusion up to the present day. Not only is his memoir a classic of the genre, it is also a book full of lessons for today's counter-terrorism operators and their intelligence auxillaries in search of shadowly, deceptive, elusive, and deadly opponents. Beesly provides a blueprint on how to "find the dots," connect them together, hunt them down, and destroy them. It is highly recommended.
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