The Tangled Web

Title:                      The Tangled Web

Author:                  Army Times Editors

Army Times Editors (1963). The Tangled Web: True Stories of Deception In Modern Warfare. Washington, DC: Robert E. Luce

LCCN:    63019705

U163 .A7


Date Updated:  January 31, 2017

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Many works on deception in World War II have appeared since the publication of this popular treatment. The Tangled Web, which treats examples of ruses de guerre going back to the American Civil War, merits special mention, however, for two reasons. It was still, in 1980, one of the few works listed under the heading “Deception in Warfare” in the Library of Congress catalog. It is also the first work published in English after 1945 devoted to military deception that covers more than one conflict or the particular operations of a single war. It may have the added minor distinction of being one of the first works to mention the name of John Bevan, the head of LCS, the British deception committee in World War II.

Aside from the absence of notes and references, there are a number of shortcomings. There is an odd asymmetry in the research of historical examples of deception. Of the 142 works cited in the bibliography 25 concern Norway in 1940, which is covered by only 11 pages of text. Even then, no mention is made of the important German deception that succeeded in drawing the British fleet away from Norway as the Germans prepared to invade the country. There are chapters on German sabotage in the United States and on Big Bertha in World War I and on psychological warfare in World War II, subjects that do not fall into the category of deception. The recounting of the U.S. deception plan for the attack on the St. Mihiel salient in 1918 does not mention the strong suspicions of German intelligence that a deception plan was in the works. Finally, the naval deceptions treated are strategically less important than many others, such as those covered in Admiral William James’ 1956 biography of Admiral Hall, The Eyes of the Navy.[2] To the authors’ credit, they show no scholarly pretensions about this work.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[3]

An interesting account of the controversial North Pole operation in which the author charges the deaths of scores to the ineptness of British SOE officials who never learned, or learned too late, that radio messages from agents in Holland were controlled by German counterespionage. This book raises more questions than it answers.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 64-65

[2] James, W. 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

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


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