The Eyes of the Navy

Title:                      The Eyes of the Navy

Author:                 William M. James

James, William M. (1955). The Eyes of The Navy: A Biographical Study of Admiral Sir Reginald Hall, K.C.M.G., C.B., LL.D., D.C.L. London: Methuen

LCCN:    55012863

DA89.1.H3 J3 1955



  • Published as The Code Breakers of Room 40 [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1956. LCCN: 55012500]

Date Updated:                     June 10, 2016

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Since Admiral Hall was refused official permission to write his war memoirs, James’s effort will have to do as second best. James was well placed to undertake the task. He was a close colleague of Hall and in charge of Room 40 from 1917 to 1918, where as service head he interpreted deciphered messages. After the war, he was deputy director of intelligence. Hinsley[2], in his first volume on the history of British intelligence in World War II, called James one of the two senior British officers of the interwar period with an understanding of the importance of intelligence. In addition, James had access to Hall’s papers and the advantage of having taken part in passing for publication writings on the war when at the Admiralty. He had no access to “unreleased official papers.”

Many of Hall’s famous activities and operations are treated. Above all, James tells of Room 40 and how Hall dominated it and used the intelligence from it. James claimed his version on the Zimmermann note is the first full one. Among the bombardment of intriguing stories are many examples of deception practiced by Hall; “There was nothing Hall enjoyed more than planning ruses to deceive the Germans.” James’ explanations for Hall’s difficulties with his own service and other components of the British government and with his retirement should be supplemented by reading Hinsley’s book [n. 2].

Though James has written an important book on one of the outstanding figures of intelligence, not all has been revealed. James allows for this fact when he writes in his foreword that Hall’s autobiography would have been “a book of historical importance.” Revelations by other authors put in doubt James’ story of the captured Wassmuss code book as the true source of the crucial cryptanalytical breakthrough on diplomatic traffic, while Friedman and Mendelsohn’s research raises questions as to whether James’ cryptanalytical account of the Zimmermann note is the full one (see The Zimmermann Telegram[3]). See C. J. Edmonds’s article in the January 1960 Royal Central Asian Journal for that author’s position that James’ version of the Wassmuss ciphers is not correct. See too McLachlan’ s Room 39[4] for the Admiralty’s refusal to allow James to include names and tributes to Room 40 personnel, alluded to by James. Friederich Katz’s The Secret War in Mexico (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981) also analyzes the breaking of the Zimmermann telegram. So does Kahn’s The Codebreakers.[5]

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[6]

Biography of Britain’s Director of Naval Intelligence during WWI by officer in charge of communications intelligence. Includes interesting description of exploitation of the Zimmerman Telegram.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[7]

The story of the director of British naval intelligence during WorldWar l by a member of Room 40. Emphasizes cryptanalysis of German communications.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 256-257

[2] Hinsley, F. H. (1979-1990) with E. E. Thomas, C. F. G. Ransom, and R. C. Knight. British intelligence in the Second World War. New York: Cambridge University Press

[3] Friedman, William F. (1938) and Charles J. Mendelsohn. The Zimmermann Telegram of January 16, 1917 And Its Cryptographic Background. Washington, DC: U.S. Govt. Print. Off

[4] McLachlan, Donald (1968). Room 39: A Study in Naval Intelligence. New York: Atheneum

[5] Kahn, David (1967). The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing. New York: Macmillan

[6] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 35

[7] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., pp. 124-125


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