Room 39

Title:                      Room 39

Author:                 Donald McLachlan,

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

LCCN:    67025485

D771 .M28 1968

Subjects

Date Updated:  February 15, 2016

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Room 39 ranks as one of the best books on intelligence and perhaps the best book on naval intelligence ever written. A study on a separate subject sponsored by CIA (done in conjunction with Mathtech) included the opinion that this was an extraordinary book and perhaps the best single study of intelligence-its organization, collection, uses, and misuses. RUSI’s review found it a fascinating book that revealed many erstwhile secrets. It thought the account of Winn and the Admiralty’s U-boat tracking room of particular interest. McLachlan served on the staff of the director of naval intelligence from 1940 to 1945 and thus was well placed to study his subject-how British naval intelligence worked. He made use of the personal memories of many, including Admiral Godfrey and his successor at NID. The product is perhaps one of the best books on intelligence ever written. The book would have been even more complete had the author been free to include what he knew of Ultra in the naval intelligence war. Due to security constraints, McLachlan could only allude to Bletchley Park as “Station X” and write elliptically about the communications intelligence success. Lewin in Ultra Goes to War[2] gives an example of an incident in this book in which McLachlan was forced to use the cover story of an agent’s report from Norway to disguise information derived from Ultra (the PQ17 Convoy disaster). Perhaps for this reason McLachlan only briefly mentions the existence of the Intelligence Assault Unit under the NID that was targeted against enemy cryptologic material (see Hampshire’s The Secret Navies[3]). Reading this is an enriching experience, and the list of pertinent, interesting, and significant items it contains is very long. To mention a few at random: a view of Admiral Godfrey and his relations with Churchill; an explanation of Godfrey’s attitude toward women in intelligence; mention of Naval Section 17Z; the treatment of various sources of the intelligence, especially OIC, the Operational Intelligence Center. Montagu’s Beyond Top Secret Ultra[4] and Beesly’s Very Special Intelligence[5] provide further information that was not or could not be included here.

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

A history of British Naval Intelligence in WWII. The late author, a journalist who was on the personal staff of the Director of British Naval Intelligence, 1940-45, discusses the structure, operations, successes, and failures of that service. Chapter 15, on lessons learned, is of particular value. For security reasons at the time of writing, this book does not discuss the role of communications intelligence.

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

A dramatic account of the activities of British naval intelligence in Room 39 of the Admiralty. Room 39 was the nerve center of naval intelligence where raw information was analyzed resulting in orders for the British fleet in its bottle against U-boats, the German navy, and merchant shipping. Chapter 2 contains a description and analysis of seventeen sources of intelligence information used as an input to Room 39 operations. The author, a professional editor and writer, served on the personal staff of the director of naval intelligence from 1940 to 1945, yet this book is much more than a memoir. It is a thorough discussion of the principles and philosophy of naval intelligence as conducted in World War Il.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 311-312

[2] Lewin, Ronald (1978). Ultra Goes to War: The First Account of World War II’s Greatest Secret Based On Official Documents. London: Hutchinson

[3] Hampshire, A. Cecil (1978). The Secret Navies. London: William Kimber

[4] Montagu, Ewen (1977, 1978). Beyond Top Secret Ultra. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan

[5] Beesly, Patrick. (1981, 2006). Very Special Intelligence: The Story of The Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre, 1939-1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press

[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. 43

[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., p.

 

[2] Lewin, Ronald (1978). Ultra Goes to War: The First Account of World War II’s Greatest Secret Based On Official Documents. London: Hutchinson

[3] Hampshire, A. Cecil (1978). The Secret Navies. London: William Kimber

[4] Montagu, Ewen (1977, 1978). Beyond Top Secret Ultra. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan

[5] Beesly, Patrick. (1981, 2006). Very Special Intelligence: The Story of The Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre, 1939-1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press

[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. 43

 

This entry was posted in British Intelligence and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Room 39

  1. Pingback: Very Special Admiral | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: Very Special Intelligence | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  3. Pingback: Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  4. Pingback: The Eyes of the Navy | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  5. Pingback: The Secret Capture | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  6. Pingback: The Secret Wars, A Guide to Sources in English | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  7. Pingback: The Cat With Two Faces | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  8. Pingback: Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage And Covert Operations | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  9. Pingback: Blackstock Selected Bibliography of Fifty Titles | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s