The British secret service during World War II was the Secret Service Bureau founded in 1909. The Bureau was a joint effort of the Admiralty and the War Office to coordinate the gathering and interpretation of intelligence.
Britain at the time had not fought a major since the Crimean War (1854-56). Tension were, however. rising in Europe because of increasingly aggresive behavior of Imperial Germany and most ominously for Britain, the German construction of a modern highsea fleet. The Bureau did not play a major role in World War I and had few successes to report. In the inter-War era the operations and funding were reduced and control turned over to the Foreign Office. With the rise of NAZI Germany, the Government began to devote more attention to secret operations.
British intelligence was directed by Colonel Stewart Menzies. Menzies struck of a frienship with "Wild Bill" Donovan before he was appointed to head the American inteligence agency--the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). MI56 effectively rolled up the German operatives early in the War. They turned some of them and executed others. British opperatives also provided valuable information about the German rocket program. MI6 data on the German rocket program helped to significantly limits its impact. The greatest Allied achievement was in misleading the the Germans about the location of the D-Day landings. As the landings were launched from England, this was primarily but not entirely a British achievement. The Ressistance movements in occupied countries provided a great deal of valuable information. Here the French Resistance waz particulrly important in preparing for D-Day. The British obtained some valuable information frome tapeing high ranking German POWs.
The British Secret Service Bureau was founded in 1909. The Bureau was a joint effort of the Admiralty and the War Office to coordinate the gathering and interpretation of intelligence. Britain at the time had not fought a major since the Crimean War (1854-56). Tension were, however. rising in Europe because of increasingly aggresive behavior of Imperial Germany and most ominously for Britain, the German construction of a modern highsea fleet.
The Bureau was organized into naval and army sections. Over time the operations of the two units shifted from a service to a geographic focus. The navy section became involved primarily in foreign espionage and is thus the forerunner of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), The army section became primarily concerned with domestic counter-espionage. This resulted from the Royal Navy's desire to assess the the strength and disposition of the of the Imperial German Navy which could only be determined through intelligence operations in Germany and to a lesser extent foreign ports in which German ships called. Gradually this specialization was formalized as the two sections developed.
After the onset of World War I, British officials made some organizationa; changes in the Bureau. The foreign (originally naval) section became the Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 6. The British referred to this effort with many different terms until the name MI6 came into general use. It was directed by Captain Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming. (He commonly only used Smith rather than the hyphinted family name, but commonly signed correspondence only with "C". This became essentially his code name and subsequent MI6 directors who operated anonomously also adopted their own code names. This is why the SIS chief in Ian Flamings novels is called "Q".]
MI6 did not play a major role in World War I and had few successes to report. MI6 failed to establish a spy network or develop important sources in Germany. This is in contrast to World War II when several resistance groups and individuals supplied information to the Soviets and Allies. MI6 collected information principally from military and commercial sources in neutral countries, occupied territories, and Russia. None of the information collected played a major role in the War.
The operations and funding of the SIS were substantially reduced during the inter-war era. After the War there was a wide difference of opinion as to the structure and function of the foreign intelligence service. A reorganization referred to as the '1921 Arrangement' was designed to make operations more focused on the needs of the consumer agencies, primarily the War Office and Admiralty. SIS began to work more closely with the Foreign Office during the 1920s as diplomatic operations provided obvious cover for SIS agents. SIS established the post of "Passport Control Officer" within embassies. This was a system that British Army Intelligence developed during the War. This cover provided by the Passport Control Office was compromised in the 1930s as a result of the Venlo Incident. (The British Passport Control Office in the United States was used to launch a major effort to discredit isolations, disrupt Axis operations in America, promote aid to Britain, and eventually bring America into the War. It also played a major role in the development of the American intelligence service.) Cumming came to the conlusion that foreign intelligence was best caried out by the Foreign Office. He managed to convince his superiors that it was best run as part of Foreign Office at Whitehall. The foreign intelligence servive still had no definitive name. The service was refeered to by many different terms (Foreign Intelligence Service, the Secret Service, MI1(c)', Special Intelligence Service, and C's organisation. Only gradually did Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) energed as the accepted name. (SIS and MI6 are synonamous. The title SIS was not formally enshrined by act of Parliament until 1994). After World War I, the focus of SIS shifted from Germany to the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union. The SIS supported an effort to overthrow the Bolsheviks (1918). It was conducted by SIS agents Sidney George Reilly and Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart. Captain George Hill oversaw other
espionage activities in the Soviet Union. Smith-Cumming died (1923). Admiral Sir Hugh 'Quex' Sinclair replaced him. Sinclair did not have the dramatic presence of his predecessor. He was a highly capable administrator and pursued several important initiatives and sections to pursue them.
Section V was a centralized foreign counter-espionage section. They worked with the Security Service to collect and assess reports from overseas stations. Section VII was an economic intelligence section wgich worked on trade, industry, and contraband. Section VIII set up a clandestine radio communications network which was used to communicate with overseas operatives.
Section D was responsible for carrying out political covert actions and paramilitary operations during war.
This would become the Special Operations Executive (SOE) which operated in NAZI occupied Europe during World War II.
Section N was tasked to obtain information from foreign diplomatic bags.
With the rise of NAZI Germany, the Government began to devote more attention to secret operations in general and Germany in particular. The SIS managed to develop anti-NAZI sources within the German Government and the German Navy. The work of SIS was, however, not any better and in some ways not as effective as the tht developed by the Foreign Office. Robert Vansittart, the Permanent Undersecretary at the Foreign Office collected a great deal of valuable information on developments in Germany and German rearmament. Sinclair died just before the outbreak of World War II. His replavement was Lt. Col. Stewart Menzies (Horse Guards). He had joined the Service at the end World War I.
The SIS organization was basically set before World War II begn. SIS during the War was directed by Colonel Stewart Menzies. Menzies struck of a frienship with "Wild Bill" Donovan before he was appointed to head the American inteligence agency--the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). There was no centrally coordinate British intelligence operation during World War II. Very important operations were conducted outside of SIS (MI6). MI5 was responsible for domestic counter-intelligence operations. And they effectively rolled up the German operatives early in the War. They turned some of them and executed others. MI5 also ran the important "double-cross" system to confuse and mislead the Germans. The greatest Allied achievement was in misleading the the Germans about the location of the D-Day landings. As the landings were launched from England, this was primarily but not entirely a British achievement. The British obtained some valuable information frome tapeing high ranking German POWs.
One of the most important operations was the cryptanalytic effort taken on by the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). They were responsible for intercepting and decoding foreign communications (primarily German radio transmissions) at Bletchley Park. Here the Ultra program cravled the German Enigma mschines.
Another major effort was the RAF's Photographic Reconnaissance Unit which collected at considerable risk imagery intelligence. This was the beginning of The National Imagery Exploitation Centre (JARIV).
The SIS began with a massive failure--the Venlo incident. Venlo wa a Dutch town where the SIS much of the operation took place. The Netherlands was a neutral country. Abwehr agents posed as disident officers planning to depose Hitler. SIS agents met several times with the Awehr agents posing as conspirators. A German operation to abduct the SIS team had to be cancelled when Dutch police shoed up in Venlo. Later when the Dutch police were not present, the Germans succeeded in abducting two SIS agents. After Churchill became primeminister, Section D was
substantially expanded as the Special Operations Executive. By this time, the NAZIs had succeeded in occupying most of Western Europe. Churchill hoped to set Europe ablaze bu supporting and directing resistance activities. SOE operations were initially conceived as offensive in character. This proved possible in Yugoslavia, but were not feasible in the rest of Western Europe which was highly urbanized. In addition, the German resopnse to resistance attacks was to execute large numbers of civilian hostages. Thus the emphasis gradually shifted to intellihence gathering, especially as serious preparations began for the D-Day landings. The SOE operaions resulted in a splot in the SIS. Most of the Service was fixed on more discrete operations. And the German response to the SOE operaions was to increase security operations made it more difficult for other SIS operatives.
The SIS still managed to carry out important operations in both occupied Europe as well as Asia (the Middle East and Far East). In Asia it operated as the Iterservice Liaison Department (ISLD).
British opperatives also provided valuable information about the German rocket program. Data on the German rocket program helped to significantly limits its impact. The Ressistance movements in occupied countries provided a great deal of valuable information. Here the French Resistance waz particulrly important in preparing for D-Day.
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