A Clear Case of Genius, Room 40’s Code-breaking Pioneer, Admiral Sir Reginald ‘Blinker’ Hall

This is a most interesting book, both for its content and the way in which the autobiography has been salvaged and updated by Vickers’ commentary. Blinker Hall was one of the great heroes of WWI but almost totally unknown because he was Director Naval Intelligence – Most Highly Recommended.





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NAME: A Clear Case of Genius, Room 40's Code-breaking Pioneer, Admiral 
Sir Reginald 'Blinker' Hall
FILE: R2585
AUTHOR: Admiral Sir Reginald 'Blinker' Hill, Philip Vickers
PUBLISHER: The History Press
BINDING: hard back
PAGES:  224
PRICE: £20.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War One, World War 1, First World War, The Great 
War, intelligence, code-breaking, USA, Zimmermann Telegram, Royal Navy, 
Sigint, radio intercepts, telegraphic intercepts

ISBN: 978-0-7509-8265-8

IMAGE: B2585.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/yc83yvtr
DESCRIPTION: This is a most interesting book, both for its content 
and the way in which the autobiography has been salvaged and updated 
by Vickers' commentary.  Blinker Hall was one of the great heroes of 
WWI but almost totally unknown because he was Director Naval 
Intelligence – Most Highly Recommended.

This is a very valuable book because the work and achievements of 
British intelligence during WWI are even less visible than in WWII. 
The secret work of BCCS and Bletchley Park was maintained until the 
1970s when an author was permitted to have his book about the work 
published. This was probably a major error by MoDSy in clearing the 
text and it opened the flood gates to books and video. With the 
welter of books about Bletchley Park and associated topics during the 
last few years, the real pioneers of British code-breaking are known 
partially and to very few people. One reason for that was probably 
that, until the 1970s, Britons in intelligence work knew how to keep 
a secret. Then WWII documents started to be de-classified and spark a 
rush of research. By then, WWI was a distant memory and largely 
confined to the Western Front, Gallipoli and Jutland. That is 
incredible because one man was the key element in winning the Great 

The Royal Navy pioneered modern intelligence gathering and 
processing. The Directorate Naval Intelligence was the first 
professional intelligence organization to understand the 
vulnerabilities and opportunities of the rush of invention from the 
mid 19th Century. It was uniquely placed because it was in effect the 
projection of Great Britain and the British Empire to the World, the 
greatest navy of the greatest empire.

RN involvement in intelligence goes back very much further. However, 
the dramatic change point was the telegraph as the first of the 
generations of electronic communications systems. Before that, the RN 
had depended on fast cutters and semaphore to provide long range 
communications. That inevitably meant that important orders could 
take months to reach distant warships, requiring captains to make 
enormously important decisions on the spot and hoping that the 
decisions were not flawed by a lack of critical up-to-date 
information from the Admiralty. Equally, very important intelligence 
from a distant captain would take months to reach the Admiralty with 
the semaphore system connecting Portsmouth to London speeding the 
last few miles.

The telegraph continued the traditions of the semaphore but spanned 
continents and oceans, carrying messages between forwarding stations 
at the speed of light. Telegraph codes were required to speed the 
process of keying the messages. The codes were known to many and 
eventually International Morse Code emerged as a global code system, 
making communication more reliable but also making it visible to a 
great many people who obtained unauthorized access to a message at 
some point in the system. The basic problem was that locations around 
the world were linked by forwarding stations where cables from cables 
from many places came together. At these points an incoming message 
would be printed and then resent by an operator over the next length 
of cable towards the intended destination. Eventually, that was 
replaced by 'store and forward' stations where an incoming message 
was printed as a punched paper tape. That tape was then torn off, 
taken to a punch reader connected to another cable and automatically 
read and transmitted, a system that was still in use well into the 
computer age.

The result was that military and diplomatic organizations began to 
develop codes and cyphers that would then be further encoded with 
'public' telegraph codes. This in turn created the requirement to 
set up code breaking units and find ways of intercepting messages 
that could then have their code broken. The first radio transmitters 
used telegraphy rather than speech, basically because speech required 
more technology and radio bandwidth. The result was that radio 
provided a means to communication directly between two points, either 
or both of which might be moving. Wire telegraph practices were then 
copied, setting a familiar system of preparing and sending messages. 
Inevitably, it meant that some 'store and forward' stations had both 
wireless telegraphy transceivers and wire telegraphic equipment.

The Royal Navy was quickly realized that although radio communication 
answered so many prayers for command and control of naval vessels, it 
also created a very big danger. Anyone, anywhere, with a radio receiver 
could intercept messages without the senders being aware of this. 
Intercepted messages could be decoded by code-breakers, but radio 
activity itself betrayed possible military actions. The Royal Navy 
accordingly set up its own radio intercept stations at a number of 
places. Not only could these stations copy transmissions between 
others, but they could triangulate on the transmitters to identify 
the locations of the transmitters. The other side of the coin was 
that the RN began to develop and frequently change the codes they 
used, and to introduce a strict method of using their own transceivers 
aboard ship and on land. This included using only visual systems 
between ships in company or close offshore, while maintaining radio 
silence. When transmissions were necessary strict discipline was 
maintained, encrypting most signals and keeping the transmissions a 
short as possible.

All of this understanding and skill was fed into DNI and Naval 
Intelligence began setting up teams and procedures to take full 
advantage of enemy communications. All of this capability continued 
to be refined and updated after 1918, through WWII and on through 
the Cold War. It remains the basis of British intelligence and of 
intelligence services around the world, explaining why so much has 
remained secret for so long.

This book provides a fascinating glimpse and it also features 
strongly one of many great DNI intelligence coups. Blinker Hall and 
his teams were responsible for the Zimmermann Telegram interception, 
its decoding and its transmission by Britain to the USA. That 
telegram was the critical point at which the USA was brought into 
WWI and it ensured victory for Britain, the Commonwealth and their 
Allies over Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

This is a great read and includes some fascinating images in the 
photo plate section.