British Government Secret Intelligence and Foreign Policy files
Sourced from The National Archives U.K., this fascinating collection of primary source material enables rich research into intelligence, foreign policy, international relations and military history. Files date from 1873 to 1953 and include cabinet office papers, daily signals intelligence reports and the files of the Permanent Undersecretary's Department (PUSD), related to The Spanish Civil War, The Second World War, The Cold War, and The Korean War.
October 25th, 1917
October Revolution in Russia
After the Bolshevik Party seized power during the October Revolution, the Russian government monitored all foreign and 'counter-revolutionary' agents. British intelligence acquired this list of Russian revolutionary supporters assigned to watch British and other foreign embassies in Russia in December 1917. Later correspondence in this file suggests that the list was probably a forgery, an example of the many challenges of intelligence work.
June 28th, 1919
Signing of the Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles strictly limited Germany's military & industrial capacity, demanded reparation payments, and required Germany to accept responsibility for causing and prolonging the First World War. It provoked almost universal opposition in Germany and was a point of contention throughout the 1920s and '30s. In 1928, British intelligence officers managed to photograph this secret document outlining German plans for remobilizing the country's military forces, suggesting that Germany was planning to contravene the Treaty nearly 8 years before Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936.
Spanish Civil War
During the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939, the Joint Intelligence Subcommittee received almost daily updates on the course of the fighting, which ensued after a failed military coup. This report of 'Low Flying Attack on Land Forces' describes how, in the region of Guernica in April 1937, '53 Insurgent aeroplanes constantly bombed Basque troops from a low altitude and demoralized them.'
First codebreakers arrive at Bletchley Park
In 1938, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) purchased Bletchley Park, a country house in Buckinghamshire, to serve as the war-time home of the Government Code & Cypher School (GC&CS). A few SIS officers transferred there during the Munich Crisis in September, although most of the GC&CS staff arrived in August 1939 in preparation for war. As this letter indicates, some of the staff seemed to expect rather grander accommodation than was available in the local houses to which they were billeted.
First Enigma messages broken by intelligence officers at Bletchley Park
The Enigma machine was invented shortly after World War I by a German engineer. German armed forces adopted use of the machine in the late 1920's to send coded messages. This file covers intelligence reports and related correspondence to and from the British prime minister in the years 1940 to 1945. The file consists of Winston Churchill's correspondence with British military commanders and intelligence personnel on a variety of topics relating to the progress of the war, including the deciphering of Enigma and the need for more wireless operators in 1940.
May 10th, 1941
Defection of Rudolf Hess
Rudolf Hess, Deputy Führer of the Nazi Party, became convinced that he could negotiate a favorable peace with Britain before Germany opened a second front against Russia. Without apparent sanction from Hitler or anyone else, Hess flew himself to Scotland in May 1941. He parachuted out of his plane, landing near Dungavel House, where he hoped to make contact with the Duke of Hamilton, a fellow aviator, whom Hess mistakenly believed might be sympathetic. This is the Duke of Hamilton's report of his first conversation with Hess, after he was captured and held for questioning.
December 7th, 1941
Attack on Pearl Harbor
On December 8th, 1941, the Japanese Ambassador in Berlin sent this telegram to the Foreign Minister in Tokyo to report on the discussions between Japan and Germany over the wording of the Three Powers Act. During the negotiations, Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Minister of Foreign Affairs, received news of the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor. The Nazi leader was 'greatly delighted and praised highly the daring of our navy.'
July 17th – August 2nd, 1945
In July of 1945, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and U.S. President Harry Truman met in Potsdam, Germany to decide how to administer Germany, who had agreed to unconditional surrender two months prior on May 8th. This document from July of 1946 begins to detail evidence of Russia's contravention of the Potsdam Agreement.
September 2nd, 1945
The End of the Second World War
This letter introduces an intelligence report that examines the Japanese attitude to surrender. Written on August 10th, one day after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, this letter lists the initial conclusions that were made on August 5th, one day before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The letter goes on to reassesses the situation, but suggests that Japan’s reaction is still impossible to predict. But, Japan finally announced its surrender on August 15th, and signed the Instrument of Surrender on September 2nd aboard the USS Missouri.
June 25th, 1950
Beginning of the Korean War
The Korean War officially began when North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25th, 1950. A few days later, the British government's Joint Intelligence Committee requested this brief on Korea with information on the country's topography, weather, transportation infrastructure and assessments of the military forces on both sides.
Images reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives, London, England
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"Secret intelligence has long been regarded as the 'missing dimension' of international relations. However, thanks to the Secret Files from World Wars to Cold War project, Britain's spies, security agents, codebreakers and deceptioneers are no longer missing in action"
Denis Smyth, University of Toronto, Canada.