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Scandal of room 40 the most mysteries of the First World War

Monday, January 10, 2011

Admiral William Reginald Hall was an officer of the Royal Navy, that is to say a regular officer trained for the service from the age of fourteen. His father had been a captain, R.N. and, which is relevant but not necessarily indicative, had been the first Director of the Intelligence Division at the Admiralty when that branch of the naval staff was created in 1882.
Born in 1870, Reginald Hall was known as 'Blinker' owing to a slight facial tic nerveux, In 1889 he was commissioned sub  lieutenant, R.N., and when not at sea took courses at gunnery and torpedo schools, gaining high honours, which he repeated at the equivalent of a naval staff college. Exceptionally smart, he became a senior staff officer at the age of twenty-seven and was promoted to Commander in 1901. Three years later he commanded his first ship, H.M.S. Cornwallis, in the Mediterranean fleet, described by his biographer to whom much of this information is due as 'one of the smartest ships in a very smart fleet' 1 for her captain was a strict but fair disciplinarian. In 1905 he was made a captain, and when war broke out he was in command of the battle cruiser H.M.S. Queen Mary. But almost immediately, and after only a single, comparatively small engagement with the German navy, his health broke. However, he had already been appointed to his father's old chair, as Director of the Intelligence Division, in late November 1914.

A more critical moment for his appointment there could not have been. In less than four months the pre-war plans of all the major belligerents had broken down. The French offensive had failed immediately; the German offensive had been halted and thrown back at the Marne; the Russian steam roller had gone into reverse after the Battle of Tannenberg, fought during the last week of August; the somewhat nebulous British idea of a decisive sea battle was foiled by the decision of the Kaiser to concentrate all possible German energies on an immediate lan41 victory, a decision that was antipathetic both to Admiral Tirpitz' and to his Admiral Staff. The major British effort was therefore diverted to 'supporting the French on land. While each side sought ingenious tactical methods of avoiding it - none of which was to have any lasting effect - the war of attrition in the trenches had begun.

There could no longer be any question ot getting the boys home by Christmas.. Basic strategic rethinking, on both sides was imperative, and urgent. And it was of equal importance and urgency to forecast what those thoughts on the: other sides of the fronts might be. As with operational plans, so with secret intelligence too, the political and the military soon enough became almost inextricably intertwined.
On land, with the weapons and tactics in use during that war, attrition meant the deployment of vast infantry armies with maximum artillery support. Horse cavalry was virtually useless, and its successor, the armored formations of the Second World War, did not exist as' such, for' few of the tanks that appeared in
1916 and after were used by either side as little more than armor-plated mobile artillery. The air forces, too, were primarily a reconnaissance auxiliary engaged in support of these huge infantry armies. The concept of strategic bombing by a massive force of bomber planes was, it is true, being evolved by the British, and would have been put into effect if that war had lasted another year, but as it was the Zeppelin and aeroplane raids on London and the Allied raids on German cities were mere pinpricks with a limited moral and very slight physical effect, comparable to the very long-range German artillery bombardments of Paris. This was an infantry war, with enormously heavy casualties" The god of war was on the side of the big batt ali ons and as these were mown down by enemy machine-gun fire and, soon enough, left 'hanging on the old barbed wire', the call for more and ever more replacements became louder and louder.

Soon the entire male populations of the great powers were beginning to prove inadequate for the slaughter. From the Allied point of view the numerical weight of the Russian masses was, to put it mildly, a disappointment

Those millions of peasants could only in part be spared from the primitive agricultural system, and Russian communications were so inferior that even the mobilization of those who could was slow and inefficient. Even after that it was extremely difficult to keep them supplied with food and ammunition, while their armaments were grossly inferior to those of the Central Powers. Sir Basil Liddell Hart has calculated that in modern war between armies of equivalent military value the offensive needs to outnumber the defensive in battle by between five and seven to one. On the Eastern Front, however, the Germans were able to launch successful offensives and win battles with far smaller superiority of numbers, or sometimes with none, even at the critical point, while the ill-equipped and ill-supplied Russians needed a superiority of perhaps twenty or even fifty to one in order to win a battle and even then were largely incapable of converting a tactical victory into a strategic success. There was no relying on Russian manpower in the war of attrition nor was the entry of Italy into the war in May of 1915 of much help to France and Britain from a military point of view, though from a naval one it was of great value since it secured the Mediterranean. On land, however, the Italians kept losing battles and indeed had to be supported by French and British troops rather than the other way about.

France had of course mobilized at once and at an enormous expense of manpower had held the Germans, with limited British assistance, in 1914. There were thenceforth no major reserves of French manpower on which to draw, and the loss of the industrial north to the Germans for the duration was a major blow to the French war economy.
Britain mobilized more slowly. The idea of huge British armies on the continent had scarcely been envisaged by the British General Staff before 1914, and it was a lengthy process to create such a force, conscription not being introduced until 1916.
Much of the then enormous British Empire was for various reasons unsuitable as a reservoir of men to be sent to the Western Front. Large segments of the Indian Army were transported, sometimes escorted by the Japanese Imperial Navy, but it was the so-called white dominions on which the British had principally to rely for forces from overseas, and not even on all of these, for the loyalty of the Boer population in South Africa remained problematical. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the Anzacs) was largely wasted by Winston Churchill's failed attempt at one of those grand operations which he always favoured, on occasion a huge outflanking operation designed to separate the Central Powers from their Turkish ally by the capture of Bosporus, an operation known to history as the Gallipoli Car npaign of 1915. It was some time before the Anzacs appeared on the Western Front, after this defeat. Only the Canadians played a truly important part on the Western Front and of course it took some time for the Canadians to build up, from scratch, their magnificent army and more time to bring it to Europe.

Beyond that, the huge, powerful, rich and peace loving United States of America. It was even more difficult then than it is now to generalize about 'Americans', though this has not deterred many from so doing. In those days the imponderables were immense. From the Allied point of view there was much in America that was favourable to their cause, if such be the word. America was of course a democracy, its basic political ethos more akin to the French and British models than to the quasi-democracy of the German Empire but utterly remote from the autocracy of Russia. Furthermore this very fact of democracy, of the government having to rely at least periodically on the will of the people, was not altogether advantageous to the Allied cause. In those distant days the attitudes of huge 'immigrant groups were still largely untested. The German-Americans did not hate Germany. In general the Irish-Americans did hate England, while the Jewish-Americans had often fled the Russian pogroms of the '90s. The Italian-Americans, politically less important, were presumably bewildered by the 'old country's' sudden change of alliance. But one fact applied to all these waves of then recent immigrants: they had turned their backs on Europe. And they all had the vote.
Culturally, linguistically and legally the United States were the offspring of England. The governing class was then primarily of Anglo ... Saxon origin. Yet this very real bond, along the eastern seaboard above all, from Maine to South Carolina, also covered a very real breach. The proudest moment in the history of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants was dated 1776, when British rule was overthrown in battle. Since then there had been one short war against Britain and at least two close shaves. Only the French had preserved a heritage of sentimental friendship in America, dating from Lafayette, but even this was eroded, at least among the highly educated, by the instability of French political systems over the previous century. In American eyes the future lay to the west, not to the east, towards Europe. The Anglo ... Japanese alliance was therefore not at all appealing. America, as President Wilson well knew, had no wish to be involved in the European war.
It was this antipathy that the Western Allies, and above all Britain, had to overcome. The Germans were of course equally well aware of the war-winning, or for them war-losing, results of any British success in this matter. German clumsiness, combined with excessive self confidence, dealt the cards into the hands of British intelligence and particularly of Admiral Hall, the cards that at last brought America into the war, as will be shown later.

The Germans, on the other hand, had no great potential supply of manpower upon which to rely outside their own territory. The Turks might and did eventually tie down a great deal of Allied strength in the Balkans and the Middle East; only thus could they affect the primary Western Front. The Austro- Hungarian Empire, ramshackle and even moribund, could still engage a great part of the Russian army while containing the Italians. But to reinforce their Western Front armies with sufficient strength to defeat France and Britain on land, the Germans could only rely on themselves. And the only way such force could be assembled in Flanders was by moving the German eastern armies to the west, which in tam meant the neutralization or better the elimination of Russia as a belligerent. A Russian revolution was the obvious answer, and as will be shown in a later chapter it was to this end that the more aggressive part of German secret intelligence was devoted. It, too, succeeded. But even this success did not win the war: had it resulted, as it failed
to do, in the complete conquest of France, it would no more have ended the war in 1917 than did another such German victory, with a Russia allied to Germany, win another war in 1940. Britain had either to be conquered or forced to surrender before Germany could impose a German peace. This victory had to be achieved before America entered the war. And unless British will broke, which at no time seemed likely, Britain had to be defeated at sea. With his taste for hyperbole Winston Churchill once remarked that Admiral Jellicoe, the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, was the only man who could have lost the war in an afternoon. What is certainly true is that the Royal Navy: could have lost the war within a matter of months or even weeks, I between the time that Reginald Hall became Director of Naval.

Intelligence and America's entry into the war two and a half awful years later For the war of attrition was concerned not only with the attrition of manpower but also of supplies. The term 'economic warfare' did not exist in 1914: the reality did.
Much had changed in the methods of blockade: and counter ... blockade during the century since last the United Kingdom, a maritime super-power, had been at war with a continental superpower. On 21 November 1806, the Emperor Napoleon had pronounced the Berlin Decrees which began the so-called 'Continental System' to which he later forced Russia to accede.
These decrees closed all continental ports to British ships and declared all British ports to be in a state of blockade. This was a calculated response to the British interference with French international trade (an interference that much irritated the Americans and led eventually to the Anglo-American War of 1812) but Napoleon's vigorous counter-offensive at sea was a failure. True, it caused the, British great expense, reflected in inflation, and some inconvenience, but not enough to hinder either supplies or men going to the British armies in the Spanish Peninsula in 1808. It failed for two reasons. From a purely naval point of view Nelson had won the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and for the rest of that long war Britannia ruled the waves, so that the blockade of British ports was only a phrase. More important, the United Kingdom could still feed itself; and British industry was not totally reliant on the importation of raw materials.

By November 1914 these conditions no longer existed. The British Grand Fleet would be pinned down in British home waters against any sally by the German High Seas Fleet, which it only just outnumbered. Britannia's rule of the sea was precarious, and it is to this that Winston Churchill referred. The fact that no German sally took place until the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916, and that the enemy then withdrew, after inflicting heavier casualties than their own upon the Royal Navy, and never emerged from port again, is one of the more curious mysteries of the First World War. It is explicable by the over emphasis that the German supreme command placed on land victories (the Battle of Verdun was beginning), but is more precisely assigned to a basic change in German naval strategy. The German High Seas Fleet built so rapidly and at such vast expense before the war, contributed almost nothing to the German war effort. The U-boat fleet, built almost entirely after 1914, very nearly won it for them.

For Britain had become an enormous workshop, after the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 increasingly and soon almost entirely dependent on the importation of cheap food from overseas. The system of empire ensured that the sources of basic raw materials were secure; the existence of an enormous merchant marine, that these could be brought to Britain, there to be transformed in the factories into profitable exports. Only coal, and to a much lesser extent iron ore, existed in adequate quantities in Britain. Almost everything else, including food, had to be brought in from far away. With industrial France largely in German hands since 1871, and particularly since 1914, British factories, aided by imports from American factories, had to supply not only the sinews of war but also the basic necessities of ordinary life. The breaking of the British merchant marine and the interdiction of foreign shipping reaching Britain would rapidly have knocked the United Kingdom out of the war.
German surface raiders secured considerable successes in the early months of the war, but were quite quickly eliminated and German overseas bases overrun. The small U-boat fleet, on the other hand, was extremely effective and almost beyond the reach of British counter-measures when Hall became Director of Naval Intelligence. He realized as rapidly as the German naval staff that the V-boat was likely to be the decisive weapon of naval warfare.

That U-boats torpedoed merchantmen without warning was much trumpeted as another German 'atrocity'. It was, indeed, contrary to the old practice of naval warfare, whereby a warship traditionally allowed the crew of an unarmed cargo vessel time to take to the boats before sinking the ship. But this practice was not possible for a U-boat captain, whose only defense of his highly vulnerable, thin-skinned ship when surfaced was to submerge into secrecy and speed. This was of course understood by
British naval officers, particularly those with any direct experience of submarine warfare. And the Naval Intelligence Division not only understood the U-boat tactics, but realized that it must find a way of detecting the position and if possible the intentions of the V-boat captains. The most obvious and best answer then available was radio intelligence, for there could never be enough ships to scour the oceans for underwater craft. Nevertheless, the atrocity propaganda concerning U'-boat tactics brought in rich returns among neutral nations, and particularly in the United States after the sinking of the liner S.S. Lusitania off the south Irish coast on 7 May 1915, with many American passengers aboard and, it would seem, an undisclosed war cargo for Britain in the hold.

The two main adversaries were engaged constantly not only in political intelligence but in political subversion on the largest possible scale. As has been remarked, this was the age of nationalism, but it was also the age of empire. The empires of Germany and even of France were comparatively unimportant. Those of Austria and Russia were highly vulnerable. And the Achilles heel of the British Empire was Ireland. Both sides therefore, in the name of nationalism to which the Western powers added the word democracy, encouraged subversion among the enemy empires. Thus the mutual mass murder between the manpower of the great European states was extended, in all cases with ultimate equal success, to the mutual destruction of their empires. As will be seen, the Germans even attempted and failed to apply this technique to the Spanish speaking population of the southwestern United States, with results disastrous to themselves.
But the forced destruction of the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires was, in the long run, perhaps disastrous to all Europe. And the Wilsonian doctrine of 'self-determination' did not produce linguistically homogeneous nations, but in Europe a hodgepodge of smaller states, such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, still internally divided, unstable and ruled 'democratically' by the largest national element with a marked tendency to oppress minorities, while even the more homogeneous states contained within their frontiers provinces such as the Banat or Transylvania or Bukovina that were claimed, on Wilsonian principles, by their neighbors.

The Irish, again in the name of nationalism, democracy and self-determination, drove an axe into the very foundations of the British Empire. In fact the mutual suicide pact of the European battlefields was extended, deliberately and by both sides, to the state structure of Europe as a whole. And in this suicidal venture the secret intelligence services of all the belligerents were deeply involved.

In November of 1914 the new Director of Naval Intelligence found an enormous and quite unexpected bonus awaiting him at the Admiralty, His superb ability to carry out the new duties assigned him was proved in the first instance by his immediate recognition of its great value, his rapid exploitation and expansion thereof and his grasp of its highly perilous nature.
Sir Alfred Ewing was not a professional naval officer but an academic of the highest quality. In 1902 he had been Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the University of Cambridge. The First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, was a revolutionary sailor who realized that the Royal Navy was living on its magnificent traditions and was likely to be technically inferior - he was quite correct - to the new German navy then a-building, above all in engineering, that is to say speed, and in gunnery, both range and accuracy. In the teeth- of bitter opposition from the older admirals, often trained in sail ships, he set about modernizing the fleet. And he persuaded Professor Ewing to become Director of Naval Education. This introduction of civilians into the centre of the naval establishment was much resented, but was to prove a very happy precedent in two world wars. And Admiral 'Jackie' Fisher's forceful, even brutal, modernization of the Royal Navy may well have given it that marginal superiority over the Germans which neutralized the High Seas Fleet.

With the outbreak of war Sir Alfred Ewing's long-term educational role came to an abrupt end. He did not, however, leave the naval service, but was given a new task. With a small number of carefully selected men, both naval officers and recruited civilians (principally mathematicians and linguists), he was entrusted with the breaking of German naval ciphers. So secret was this form of intelligence that even within the Admiralty only a handful of persons knew of its existence.

The reasons for what might, to an outsider, appear to be an almost excessive degree of security in the matter of cipher-breaking must be explained. To simplify the matter there were, and remain, two main motives behind such intensive secrecy. While a code can be decoded with comparative ease and speed, rather like one of the more abstruse crossword puzzles in the London Times; once that code is enciphered it becomes immensely more difficult to break. Furthermore while a code book cannot easily be changed, particularly at vast distances and especially in time of war, methods of alternative encipherment can be, as it were, built in. In the age before computers, each change of cipher required immense, very highly skilled technical ability of many sorts. Obviously it has always been of paramount importance that the enemy should not guess how much of his enciphered communications is in fact being read.
Particularly in wartime, there is no point in deciphering the enemy's operational communications without using the secret intelligence thus supplied for operational purposes. But the enemy will soon enough realize that hostile operations, perhaps naval operations above all, can only be accounted for by a breaking of his own cipher or ciphers and will change these with increasing rapidity even at considerable inconvenience to himself (for he too is busy deciphering). Thus the use that a belligerent power can make of its cipher-breaking apparatus is automatically limited lest the nature of its success be revealed by a too-rapid use of the intelligence provided. When possible this source is therefore camouflaged beneath another form of secret intelligence.

Even this does not work for long, for operations must take precedence. The Germans, when Hall took over, were changing their naval cipher once every three months. Within quite a short time they were changing it once a week and then once a day. The pressure upon the men who had to break the new cipher each day in what came to be called Room 40 of the Admiralty was immense. On the whole their success was amazing, and for this Sir Alfred Ewing was largely responsible. For the Germans were not quite so foolish nor arrogant in this matter as the American ambassador to Britain, Walter H. Paget had been led to believe: 'One of the most curious discoveries, and one that casts an illuminating light on the German simplicity, is the confident belief of the German Government that its secret service was in fact secret. The ciphers and codes of other nations might be read, but not the German; its secret methods of communication, li1ce anything else German, were regarded as perfection Perhaps 'Blinker' Hall's greatest psychological attribute as a senior staff officer was his ability to make quick and almost always correct judgments. Slowness, even sloth, may be of value among civil servants - surtout, pas de zele - but will become a horror and indeed a veritable mortal sin when men are being condemned to die by the laziness or tardiness of others, who live in comfort at the expense of the state. Such an accusation could never be leveled against Hall, or Fisher, or Churchill.
The old system of watching an enemy fleet had been a combination of shore ... based espionage, in which may be included the evaluation of open intelligence from neutral countries, and patrolling off enemy-held ports as practiced since Nelson's time and before .. The perils of this latter were revealed unmistakably as early as September 1914 when Cruiser Force C was cruising a patrol line, on Admiralty orders, off the Dutch coast to cover an intended amphibious landing at Dunkirk that in fact did not take place. On 22 September a single U  boat, the U-9, sank three of these cruisers, H.M.S. Cressy, Hogue and Aboukir, within one hour. Sixty naval officers and 1400 ratings lost their lives. Other methods of watching the enemy were obviously needed.
One was soon to hand. The Imperial Russian Navy had sunk the German light cruiser, Magdeburg, in the Gulf of Finland on 20 August. A few days later the corpse of a German was washed ashore .. In his arms he was clutching a copy of the German naval signal book
The Russian admiralty recognized how important this must be to the British, and a copy was sent to London; it arrived on 13 October, and was passed to Ewing. Fleet Pay ... master Rotter, the Royal Navy's principal German expert, was assigned to Ewing and rapidly produced the key to the method of encipherment of the groups in the book by a piece of brilliant, deductive reasoning. To this another bonus was soon added.
Y, in late December a British trawler fishing the area, brought up in her trawl a large chest containing books and documents jettisoned by one of the German destroyers. These included the one German naval signal book that was needed by Room 40 to complete the picture, though not of course invariably to decipher German naval signals at once. Indeed the occasional, unavoidable errors reinforced the more old-fashioned admirals and politicians in their belief that the Nelsonian tradition remained practical and that this newfangled rubbish was useless.
However, Hall and other more powerful men were convinced of its value, and he proceeded to build up Room 40 - a euphemism or camouflage for his whole deciphering and decoding apparatus - and though 110t himself in direct charge of its operations, relied more and more on the intelligence that it provided
.and on its confirmation or denial of information 'received from 'more traditional sources. On this level, the Room 40 level, he had soon reached agreement with the Director of Military Intelligence under whose directorate a smaller and simpler cipher-breaking apparatus was more or less merged, for strategic pur¬poses at least, with Room 40. With the mandarins of the Forcignl Office it was a slower process. However, it was discovered rather; belatedly that the intelligence derived from the trawler's chest also: enabled Room 40 to read the signals sent from the German Admiral Staff to the German naval attaches, and this was not only I of the very greatest value in itself for both naval and diplomaticpurposes but also led at last to the breaking of the German diplomatic cipher, to the reading of the famous Zimmermannl telegram in 1917 and thus to the entry of America into the wan at the eleventh hour.

But all that lay far ahead in 1914 and early 1915, when Blinker; Hall permitted and indeed encouraged his subordinates to use the most unorthodox methods in the creation and expansion oj Room 40. Even 'subordinates' is an inaccurate word. Not on were civilians, usually dressed as officers of the R.N.V.R. (thc1 Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) a strong component of Room, 40, and indeed of all Hall's division, but they were also frequent men of great distinction in their own fields of the sciences, academic life and even of the arts. Hall was a disciplinarian, but very clever one, and he realized that such men could not-be subjected to quite the same sort of discipline as regular naval officers.

They responded to this, being also very clever men, and did their best to behave as temporary naval officers should. A tradition was thus created which was to be of immense value in two world wars, and one that was hardly emulated by any other power, not even the Americans, let alone the Germans. Many of the best brains in Britain were in fact directed into, and directed, Room 40. Hall went further. He did not insist that these be purely masculine brains. He employed women in positions of very great trust and confidence, but originally with one proviso: that they be closely connected by blood or marriage with the Navy. This requirement was later relaxed. Needless to say the rumors of the establishment in Room 40 quite horrified the stuffier and more old-fashioned naval officers and Foreign Office civil servants. However, the extreme and vital secrecy of the whole operation also ensured that they did not know much.
Hall also established with speed and ease a close relationship with Sir Basil Thomson, who was responsible not only for counterespionage at Scotland Yard but also for the Irish Special Branch; and a collaboration with Spencer Cumming, head of Special Intelligence and known as 'C', which was invaluable to both. Meanwhile he was also engaged in secret activities which did not have to remain secret for long and which incidentally provided the substratwn for the fictional espionage thrillers of the next fifty years.
In any attempt to understand what Hall was doing during the winter of 1914-15, what are most impressive are not only the vast scope of his operations combined with his realization of where the 'point of main 'effort', the Schwerpunkt, lay, but also his speed. Here, and in brief, are but a few operational examples of the application of secret intelligence, some a failure, some half
a success, one at least a long-range if minor triumph. All lie in what had hitherto been an area of undefined territory between military, naval and political activity, an area jealously and mutually guarded by three bureaucracies against encroachment by the others.
The first will figure later in the book for it is the overture of the breaking of British secret intelligence by the Irish nationalists.

In September 1914, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (inaccurately referred to as Sinn Fein, a political and not then a revolutionary movement) dispatched one of its members, Sir Roger Casement, to New York, there to mobilize Irish-American and ultimately German support for a rising in Ireland. The cipher with which he and the leaders of the anti-British Irish-Americans, in particular John Devoy and Judge Calahan, communicated with Ireland and Germany was quickly broken; and their and Casement's conversations with the German military and naval attaches in IN ashington speedily fell into the hands of Thomson, Cumming and of Hall as soon as he became D.N.I. Not only was the name of the Norwegian vessel on which Casement was sailing to Europe, with destination Germany, known, but also that of his. homosexual lover, a Norwegian sailor with a New York police record. Casement's purpose was also known: to create an Irish Legion among the prisoners of war, to obtain arms from the Germans and the transportation of these to Ireland, there to start a revolution against British rule. There is an Irish belief that the I.R.B. of the period, a secret society, was impenetrable to British intelligence and in particular to the Irish Special Branch of Scotland Yard. This may have been true on Irish soil: it was most certainly not so once they got on the air.

The cruise of the Sayonara was a most secret operation of Hall's, based on the assumption that Casement would sail for Ireland from Germany almost immediately. This yacht was chartered from an American millionaire named Anthony Drexel who allegedly 'sold' it to a bogus German-American. It was clewed by American-speaking blue jackets, no less than forty of them, which in itself aroused the suspicion of British naval officers on and. off the Irish coast, none of whom was in the know. The skipper was almost a caricature German of the period, and the leisurely voyage of the Sayonara around the ports of the Irish south and west coast, awaiting the arrival of Casement and his German guns and perhaps his Irish Legion, throughout late December 1914 and January 1915, aroused the deepest suspicion. In fact, of course, the Germans realized that they had been misled as to the degree of support such an operation might then expect in Ireland and therefore postponed his departure until the spring of 1916. The whole operation was thus in the first instance a failure, though a certain amount of information useful to the Royal Navy was collected from unsuspecting Irishmen and this certainly contributed to the total failure of Casement's mission when the Germans belatedly allowed him to proceed. This intelligence, however, does not seem to have been passed adequately beyond top-level naval recipients, which contributed to the fact that Easter Week 1916 took the British army and administrators in Dublin by surprise.
More important, perhaps, was Hall's failure to buy the Goeben and the Breslau from the Grand Vizier of Turkey. These were two German heavy cruisers under the command of the German Admiral Souchon whose squadron also included Turkish memo'-war. The Ottoman Empire was in its state of ultimate disintegration in 1914. Technically still ruled by the Sultanate, in fact the most powerful force was the 'Young Turk' movement, which controlled the Turkish armed forces. These in were in large measure German Trained, and German industrial and commercial enterprise was well on the way to making of Turkey and its empire a German colony in all but name. Therefore the Western powers supported the decrepit Sultanate of Abdul the Damned, who had the rare distinction of being one of the most repulsive figures ever to appear on the European stage of international affairs.
It was German policy to involve Turkey directly and irrevocably in the war on the side of the Central Powers. Therefore the Goeben and the Breslau, anchored in Constantinople, hoisted the Turkish ensign and led Souchon's Turko German fleet into an attack on Russian coastal towns in the Black Sea, with the entirely false excuse that Russian naval forces had attacked its destroyers.
This Souchon did without the approval or even knowledge of the Sultan's theoretical government, in order to force their hand, for those officials wished to preserve Turkish neutrality or, to be more precise, their own shadowy power. The attack took place in October 1914, and the Goeben and Breslau returned to Constantinople. The British and French thereupon presented the Grand Vizier with an ultimatum on the 30th: either he must remove the German crews from the two warships flying the Turkish ensign, or face war with Britain, France and Russia
This Grand Vizier was most anxious to avoid" but as usual a formula had to be found. And his intentions were thwarted by the Russians, who declared war unilaterally on Turkey two days later. Their objective was what it had always been, and remains to this day, the control of Constantinople and the Straits.
It was in this highly complex situation that Hall now intervened. Through an intermediary, Gerald Fitzmaurice, who knew the Middle East, the Middle Eastern mind and above all the current Turkish situation intimately, he set about buying off the Turks. The haggle, for that is what it was, went on for several months. Without informing either the Cabinet or any other authority, Hall told Fitzmaurice to offer the Turks £3,000,000, with a ceiling of £4,000,000, in exchange for the surrender of the Dardanelles, the removal of all sea-mines and the surrender of the two principal German warships.
This was an arrangement entirely in accord with both the personal and political wishes of the Sultanate's ministers (who, to add to the confusion, were at one time using the Grand Rabbi as their intermediary) but unfortunately they could not carry out their side of the bargain, though this of course they did not admit. A form of bargaining reminiscent of the no sale of the Sybilline books now took place. The British were preparing for the disastrous Gallipoli operation in which only Churchill, not Fisher, had great confidence. The plans were under way from January 1915, time was running out and the price offered to the Grand Vizier was reduced. On 5 March Hall offered £500,000 for the surrender of the Dardanelles and the removal of the minefields, plus a similar sum for the Goeben. Three days later the price for the warship declined to £100,000. It was only now, in mid-March, that Hall informed his First Sea Lord of this bizarre bazaar. Fisher was understandably amazed that his D.N.I. had been engaged in these activities, but he approved them. However, he lowered the bid yet again, for he was now moderately confident the Navy could force the Dardanelles, and only wished to buy the two German warships: price, £200,000 for the Goeben and £100,000 for the Breslau.

Dirt cheap, in fact But unaccepted. On 18 March the Royal Navy attacked and failed to force the Dardanelles. Britain was at war with Turkey, at a cost very considerably in excess of four million gold sovereigns.
Needless to say Hall was carpeted by the Cabinet for his un-authorized gamble. Oddly he was also criticized by Reginald McKenna, the somewhat obscure Home Secretary whose knowledge of this remote and quite original form of warfare was negligible. Hall had the theoretical backing of the two members of the Cabinet who did know something of war, Churchill and Kitchener, and he was able to convince McKenna that orthodox peacetime standards were no longer automatically advantageous.
He held his appointment and continued to apply his own esoteric methods.
There was a rich man who enjoyed the name of Commander Sir Hercules Langrishevan international playboy, as well as a regular officer. Sir Hercules, an Irish baronet, a great sportsman, a Master of Hounds, as gallant to the ladies as he was good looking was provided with a yacht - he was an expert helmsman - named the Vergemere, a crew of bluejackets of his own choice and a personal bodyguard, an enormous Irishman, when on shore. Thus equipped Sir Hercules set sail for Spain, ostensibly to enjoy himself, with plenty of very good champagne aboard.
The real mission of this handsome, pleasure-loving man, whose instructions included close attention to Spanish ladies of political influence, was of great importance. The first and easiest task was to show the neutral Spaniards that life in Britain was neither as grey and grim nor as close to defeat as German propaganda made out. The second, and more important, was to ensure as best he could that German U boats were not refuelled in Spanish ports. At that time the operational V-boat had some thirty days at sea, half of which were spent in getting out of, and back to, German waters. Therefore its operational life on anyone cruise was about two weeks, which would be doubled if it could refuel in a Spanish port.
Sir Hercules being a naval officer and far more than he seemed to be carried out his task effectively. He was helped in this by the fact that his opposition in neutral Spain was a German vessel, of obvious naval origin, with officers boorish in comparison to hi 111 self, and stinted for money, who offered beer to their Spanish guests. Both in psychological war and in espionage Sir Hercules easily over-trumped the enemy. On his return to England he and Hall arranged that A. E. W. Mason, the famous author of many bestsellers including The Four Feathers, should establish his residence in Spain. Mason never wrote his memoirs, but certain of his stories concerning naval espionage in Spain are generally believed, probably with justice, to be fictionalized autobiography. (Somerset Maugham was another famous writer then employed by British secret intelligence, in his case in Switzerland. His book, Ashenden, is also semi-autobiographical. They were wise to adopt this formula. Compton Mackenzie was prosecuted in court, as late as the 1930s, for publishing certain recollections of his wartime period in Athens and the Aegean Intelligence Service, on the grounds that he had breached the Official Secrets Act; his book Greek Memoirs (1932) had to be withdrawn, at great cost to himself. After the Second World War such famous literary figures as Ian Fleming, Graham Greene and Malcolm Muggeridge avoided Sir Compton's mistake.)
Hall's close relationships with 'C' and with Sir Basil Thomson of Scotland Yard led him to be involved, more directly than might appear necessary, in counter-intelligence work and even direct interrogation, in which form of activity he was by all accounts a master.
Thomson's Special Branch had proved itself to be most efficient. The counter espionage branch of Military Intelligence, known to this day in the popular press as M.I.5 (or more recently, since the subordination of the three service departments to the Ministry of Defence  as D.I.5) had in fact since 1911 been subordinate to the Foreign Office as a military branch of 'C's Special Intelligence Service.
British counter-espionage had been swift, secret and efficient before even the outbreak of war. The three principal German spies, Parrott, Gould and Graves, were under arrest and, more important, without this fact being known to the Germans. Their interrogation allowed C's men to round up almost the entire German spy network in Britain as soon as war was declared. This again was kept secret, despite the rampant spy-mania earlier described, and false information was thus fed to the Germans.
However, this very important means of misleading the enemy, in the twilight zone where intelligence and counter-intelligence overlap, was suddenly subject to the very arc-lights of publicity by the trial, in public, of the spy Karl Lody, Why did this full dress court-martial, which caused the British intelligence apparatus to wring 'its hands at good work wasted, take place? It may have been mere stupidity, an extension into the judicial field of McKenna's foolish and untrue slogan, 'Business as usual'.. Or it may have been a deliberate attempt to calm an inflamed public opinion, to show the people that spies were in fact being caught. In any event, from intelligence point 'of view the Lody court-martial was a disaster, as Hall immediately realized. Henceforth only quite unimportant spies, such as Mata Hari, were tried in public, more important ones being tried in secret or better still not at all if they could be turned around.
Naval prisoners, and persons arrested on the high seas under suspicion of being German agents, were handed over to Hall. He himself became a skilled and unorthodox interrogator. The tales are legion. One will suffice. A V-boat had torpedoed a neutral ship off Ireland. Among the survivors was a man who aroused suspicion though he claimed to be an American who knew no German and had never been to Germany. When interrogating this man, in English of course, Hall suddenly barked an order in German: 'Attention!' The man sprang to attention: his game was up.

More important than such gimmicks were the uses of collaboration between the interrogation service and Room 40. Intercepted wireless messages between Malta and Barcelona, apparently gibberish, were deciphered in London - which cannot have been easy, the cipher used being based on the French dictionary, the Petit Larousse. The homes of suspected spies in Malta were clandestinely searched. In the home of one, a Serb named Madame Popovitch, a copy of the dictionary was found, its owner arrested and brought to England by warship. She seems to have been a psychopath - she was certified insane and confined to an asylum ¬but this had not prevented her from being an effective spy, and her disappearance deprived the Germans, Austrians and Turks of much valuable intelligence concerning the movement of ships to and from Malta.

Finally, there was another form of collaboration, though that is perhaps not quite the correct word, in which Room 40 played the essential role. There were British consulates in most major ports around the world. These were usually local businessmen or shippers who for a small fee carried out, in peacetime, such routine activities as explaining local regulations to the skippers of British freighters, getting drunken seamen out of jail, or simply acting as interpreters. They were seldom trained in even the most rudimentary intelligence nor were they necessarily reliable politically or incorruptible. Therefore in wartime their reports on the movements of enemy shipping were, in many and perhaps most cases, regarded as suspect by the Department of Naval Intelligence. But when such reports could be confirmed by Room 40, then the official source became the local consul and the secrecy of Room 40 was safeguarded. Every ruse of this sort that could be used as 'cover' for X or Y was practiced in both world wars and, we may assume, in the Cold War between the Communist powers and the West that has prevailed, at greater and lesser degrees of intensity, since the Second World War  


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