The BHTV is producing a stunning range of military and intelligence history videos. The most numerous titles are field battles and wars, but this new DVD demonstrates that their unique presentation style works equally well in the somewhat different environment of intelligence work.
NAME: Bletchley Park and the Ultra Secret
CLASSIFICATION: Video, DVD, reviews
PRESENTER(S): Tim Saunders, Tom Dormer, Iain Standen, Joel Greenburg
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword Digital
FORMAT: Dual layer
RUNTIME: 100 minutes
PLAYERS: Linux Workstation, Personal Computer, Mac Computer, DVD Player
SUBJECT: World War Two, Second World War, WWII, decryption, encryption, Enigma, SIGINT, code-breakers, intelligence, radio interception, Polish Intelligence Service
DESCRIPTION: The BHTV is producing a stunning range of military and intelligence history videos. The most numerous titles are field battles and wars, but this new DVD demonstrates that their unique presentation style works equally well in the somewhat different environment of intelligence work.
Britain was quick to appreciate the opportunities for intelligence gathering as radio was introduced to military communications. The Royal Navy saw that a series of listening posts could use direction finding techniques to triangulate on any ship, in any ocean that was transmitting back to its base, or to other ships. As the first triangulation stations came into service before the outbreak of WWI, the RN also appreciated that “signal chatter” could disclose useful intelligence by showing departures from normal levels of traffic. That technique was to identify the intention of the German High Seas Fleet to sail out to challenge the RN in a set piece naval gun battle.
As the RN developed its signal intelligence operation, it was seen that there was a need for code-breaking of intercepted signals that were initially made in Morse code as wireless telegraphy. Radio telephony was still very much in its infancy and employed in relatively short range communication between aircraft and local ground stations.
In the period before and during WWI, code-breaking relied on human capabilities because practical computers had not yet arrived. After 1918, the British intelligence services continued to develop their radio intercept systems and the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) was established and relocated to Bletchley Park for WWII, as a less vulnerable location to bombing. Through WWII, Bletchley Park not only developed code-breaking techniques and radio intercept systems, but also developed the first electronic computers.
At the end of WWII, the Bletchley operation moved to Cheltenham and a number of outstations in Britain and overseas. It became known as GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) a title deliberately intended to confuse outsiders into thinking it was some kind of GPO (later British Telecom) communications research centre. Also established was CESG (Communications Electronics Security Group) that took some duties from GCHQ code intercept and breaking operations and undertook to develop techniques of defence of sensitive information.
The DVD covers the WWII operations at Bletchley very well and the BHTV team are ably assisted by those involved in developing the Bletchley Park Trust. It provides a detailed history of Bletchley Park from its vital wartime operations to the site’s conversion into a museum in 1993.
There is a wealth of inside knowledge that adds further information to explain the many complexities of everyday life at Bletchley during the war. This is further enhanced by interviews with some of the survivors from the wartime operation.
There is still much that has not been revealed about Bletchley and its outstations because the work continues and includes techniques and systems developed from 1939. However this DVD provides the most detailed and balanced coverage of the history and provides fascinating insights into the people and the society that developed there.
Also covered is the valuable contribution to British code-breaking by the Polish Intelligence Service. The techniques pioneered by the Polish Service before the outbreak of war and the early German Enigma machines gave Bletchley a head start in the early stages of the war. The Polish techniques soon became obsolete as new Engima machines were developed and deployed and the Lorenz machines came into operation. At that point, Bletchley had to develop its own techniques and some amazing electronic machines that were to create the computer revolution after WWII that has changed society around the globe. However, this in no way minimizes the enormous contribution made by Poles to the huge success of Bletchley and its contribution to ensuring victory and reducing the length of WWII by perhaps three years. Having the head-start provided by the Poles not only delivered early valuable intelligence on German operations, but it developed the approaches from which later Bletchley innovations grew.
This is an excellent video, based of thorough research and presented by a team that has developed its own unique and authoritative style. The video is well lit and edited to provide a smooth presentation of a very complex subject, capturing the human elements of the story. A video not to be missed.