The Codebreakers–First World War

Title:                      The Codebreakers – First World War

Author:                 James Wyllie

Wyllie, James (2016) and Michael McKinley. The Codebreakers: The true Story of the Secret Intellligence Team that Changed the Course of the First World War. London: Ebury Press

OCLC:    9511554145



Date Posted:      April 3, 2017

Complied and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

To those wondering whether this book is a comprehensive treatment of codebreaking during WWI analogous to David Kahn’s original scholarly work by the same title[2], the short answer is: not even close. To those readers of WWI “Room 40” cryptologic history asking whether there is new material in this latest treatment of the topic, the answer is the same.

Typical subjects covered included the role of “Blinker” Hall, head of “Room 40,” and others who served there. The authors also go over how the organization was created, the dependence of codebreakers on captured code books, and operations against German sabotage agents in America. Other familiar topics include the Zimmermann Telegram, the treatment of Herbert Yardley when he visited “Room 40” during WWI, the Irish connection, the U-boat menace, the Zeppelin threat, and efforts to penetrate German codes. Though the authors state that the contribution of the military codebreaking unit, MI1(b), is also treated, it receives much less attention.

The sources mentioned are mainly secondary and most do not indicate the page numbers associated with the titles referenced.

James Wyllie, a screenwriter and broadcaster, and journalist Michael McKinley, have provided a good summary of an oft-told story, useful as an introductory volume and nothing more.

[1] Hayden Peake in The Intelligencer (22, 2, Fall 2016, pp.  ).  Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. Other reviews and articles may be found online at

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

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