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on 21 April 2016
Great book.
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on 11 December 2013
This is a fascinating and instructive book, though the author sometimes is overly repetitive, as if the manuscript was not properly checked by the author or a good editor. Emphasis is placed on the effects of an absence of intelligence, misleading intelligence or good intelligence, and the importance of communications systems and timely delivery and analysis of information. Thus the examples are useful in commerce and even domestic situations removed from the military context of the case studies.
An early example is a naval code system capable of conveying several hundred altetnative complex messages by the positioning of a few flags. The code book made it possible to identify and read the message quickly. Alas code book worked on decoding the message quickly but it was very difficult to encode a message. The comparison would be an English to German dictionary with no German to English section.
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on 10 June 2015
As always Keegan delivers a great book. Accurate and readable
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on 24 January 2004
In war, if you know what the enemy is going to do, you've won. Right? That's not necessarily so, as the British showed in the German invasion of Crete. John Keegan's Intelligence in War uses this as just one example of how intelligence is used in wartime and how it's not always the end-all and be-all of how a battle is won. Keegan explores the entire gamut of intelligence and how it's been gathered and used in modern warfare, using examples ranging from Admiral Nelson's chase of Napoleon's fleet on its way to Egypt in 1799 to some World War II examples. He finishes the book by discussing modern techniques that range from Vietnam to the war on terrorism. Put it all together and you have a fascinating book that turns the historical stereotypes on their head.
"Its theme is that intelligence in war, however good, does not point out unerringly the path to victory. Victory is an elusive prize, bought with blood rather than brains. Intelligence is the handmaiden not the mistress of the warrior." Pg 5
Methods of intelligence acquisition range anywhere from "humint" (the acquisition of intelligence through human means, usually spying but also including local knowledge of the area) and "sigint" (the interception of signals, whether radio satellite, or just seeing the semaphore flags). As technology has increased, the use of humint has decreased as more signals, and more ways of intercepting those signals, have been developed. The problem in the past has always been conveying the intelligence found to your superiors before it becomes outdated. The first case study, Nelson and Napoleon, demonstrates this completely, with Nelson getting increasingly outdated information, making some choices based on false assumptions of what he knew, but ultimately prevailing because of a decisive mind willing to take a chance on suppositions based on that intelligence. Keegan does an excellent job here showing the troubles Nelson had to go through to even get what he had.
Other case studies include Stonewall Jackson and his Shenandoah Valley campaign (demonstrating local area knowledge), the chasing of the German surface fleet in World War I (the interception and use of wireless signals), the battle of Crete (how intelligence doesn't always win the battle), the battle of Midway (the breaking of Japanese codes), the battle of the Atlantic (how intelligence was just one part of the defeat of the German submarine fleet), the German V-1 and V-2 rocket campaign against Britain (how human intelligence became very important) and then an evaluation of military intelligence from 1945 to today. He finishes with a conclusion that sums the whole thing up, that war is not won just by intelligence, but by brute force.
The broad examples Keegan uses to illustrate his point takes the reader gently along the path to understanding. He first shows some instances where intelligence was instrumental in helping the winning side succeed in their action (Nelson surprised the French fleet at Alexandria and destroyed it). He then shows us Crete, and how the British knew almost the entire German plan, but misinterpretation of parts of it kept the local commander from deploying his forces correctly, causing the loss of the island even though the Germans lost 40% of their paratroopers. This brutally enforces Keegan's notion that intelligence is nothing without the blood and sweat necessary to make use of it, or how that same blood and sweat given by the enemy can overwhelm even a prepared force.
Even without the intelligence theme running through the case studies, they are fascinating history. Keegan tells the story completely even as he uses the chapter to illustrate his point. While at times the entire chapter is illustration (the Nelson chapter continually refers to the intelligence that Nelson had received and figured out), other times he seems to abandon the theme and just tell the history (the Jackson chapter and the Battle of the Atlantic). Doing this in the Atlantic chapter reinforces the fact that, while intelligence was important in the fight against the submarine wolf packs, it was the sailors who were the most important in winning this particular battle.
Keegan's research is top-notch, though there are times you wonder about the variety (or lack thereof) of sources he uses for a particular chapter. The number of "ibid" notations can be quite alarming sometimes, though he always uses at least five or six sources for any one chapter. I do notice that there aren't any primary sources (though some of the notes say "quoted in…" so the text he is using as a source may have been using a primary source). While this is an issue, I don't think it's a major one in this case, however. He is not trying to tell a definitive history with his case studies, but instead to use them as support of his thesis about intelligence. Thus, he's not trying to get into the heads of parties involved. Some people may have a problem with that, however.
Keegan's style is very easy for the layman to read. The chapters flow effortlessly, and if you have any interest in the subject whatsoever, you should find yourself intrigued. You may not agree with him, but you will not have any trouble getting through the book. It is not dense at all. It's a thick book, at almost 400 pages before notes and bibliography. However, you will find yourself breezing through it so it doesn't feel that long. Personally, I couldn't put it down, but Keegan always entrances me with his writing. It's no different from any of his other books that I've read, so if you've found that you can't stand his writing, this book won't be any different and you should probably pass on it.
Read this book, and discover just how important intelligence is in warfare, and how sometimes it just isn't enough.
David Roy
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on 28 November 2013
The title and the content have only a partial connection with the 'stories'.
AND -my fault for not checking-the publication date is so old that the last chapter is trivial.
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on 29 June 2015
John Keegan explores, in seven case studies, the value of information about the enemy, and the means of obtaining such information, in conducting warfare. Four of his studies come from the Second World War, the others from the War of the French Revolution, the American Civil War and World War I. Methods of gaining intelligence include: reconnaissance (or lack of), local geographical knowledge, human agents, wireless interception and analysis (and other technical advances such as radar) and code-breaking.

Keegan’s (not very surprising) conclusion is that, however good one’s knowledge of the enemy’s plans and dispositions, that enemy still has to be fought and beaten. Knowing the German battle plan did not enable the British to successfully defend Crete in 1941. In June 1942, at the Battle of Midway, American wireless traffic analysis and cryptanalysis had identified the Japanese intention and the order of battle of their task force. This enabled the Americans to concentrate their limited naval forces at the decisive point. Even so, the battle could have gone either way. The Americans needed a large slice of luck, plus Japanese indecisiveness, in order to win an overwhelming victory.

The focus on Intelligence makes this is an interesting book. However there were a number of minor errors which suggest poor proof reading, or possibly poor research by Keegan. On page 242, Keegan says that, in the Battle of the Atlantic, during the first three years, sinkings of British ships in convoy were 0.02% of ships sailed; in 1943-45, losses were 0.009%. According to the raw data of ships sailed and sunk given in the text, the percentages were 1.5% and 0.9% respectively. Either Keegan or his reference source has miscalculated.

Then again, Keegan says, “The German battleship Bismarck … got from Germany to the North Atlantic, eluding the British Home Fleet for several days, and that in an era of radar and long-range aerial reconnaissance.” (page 327) This is an astonishingly inaccurate summary of the events. The Bismarck was picked up by British cruisers in the Denmark Strait, shadowed with the aid of radar, brought to battle to the south-west of Iceland, sank the Hood and was then lost for about 32 hours and found again by long-range aerial reconnaissance. Keegan also repeats the misleading claim that the Bismarck was found again because of a decrypt by Bletchley Park. It is true that the decrypt confirmed Bismarck’s destination to be Brest but the Admiralty and the CinC Home Fleet had already concluded that that was the ship’s destination. Long-range air searches by the RAF and short-range air searches by the Ark Royal were planned on that basis without any input from Bletchley.
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