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March 20, 2006

When Spies Got it Right: Spies in Uniform: British Military and Naval Intelligence on the Eve of the First World War - Matthew S. Seligmann

Posted by Jeremy Black

Spies in Uniform: British Military and Naval Intelligence on the Eve of the First World War
by Matthew S. Seligmann
Pp. xiii+272. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006
Hardback, £55

Spies in Uniform is an excellent work of scholarship that is of particular value for intelligence specialists but also of more general importance for its rejection of the revisionist case that the decision for war in 1914 was mistaken and based on a spurious German threat.

On the contrary, Seligmann shows that the majority, and, after 1906, the unanimity, of British service attachés in Berlin reported that the German armed forces were preparing for attack, although there was a lack of agreement over the danger to Britain. 1913-15 was seen as the likeliest period for this aggression.

The attachés were generally accurate on details. For example, they "read the ebb and flow of the debate" in German military and naval quarters about the likely role of air power and the particular merits of the craft available. They were also correct in reporting the significant investments made in motor transport.

Seligmann also shows that the intelligence reports were widely distributed throughout government and the armed forces, including the Foreign Service. This is seen as contributing to a coordination of foreign and defence policies. Military and naval attachés had to send all official reports via their head of mission for dispatch to the Foreign Office and on to the service ministry, but duplicate reports were sent direct to the military and naval intelligence departments. Studies for other states would be very instructive, not least in establishing how far intelligence reports were circulated.

Given the value of this book and the favourable tax regime affecting Oxford University Press, the high price is reprehensible.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. Amongst much else, he is the author of The European Question and the National Interest (Social Affairs Unit, 2006).


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