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Haig's Intelligence
GHQ and the German Army, 1916–1918

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Part of Cambridge Military Histories

  • Date Published: May 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107519275
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  • Haig's Intelligence is an important study of Douglas Haig's controversial command during the First World War. Based on extensive new research, it addresses a perennial question about the British army on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918: why did they think they were winning? Jim Beach reveals how the British perceived the German army through a study of the development of the British intelligence system, its personnel and the ways in which intelligence was gathered. He also examines how intelligence shaped strategy and operations by exploring the influence of intelligence in creating perceptions of the enemy. He shows for the first time exactly what the British knew about their opponent, when and how and, in so doing, sheds significant new light on continuing controversies about the British army's conduct of operations in France and Belgium and the relationship between Haig and his chief intelligence officer, John Charteris.

    • Examines the intelligence influences upon the British army's conduct of operations on the Western Front
    • Draws from original, global research to reconstruct both the intelligence system and the picture it provided
    • Makes an important contribution to our understanding of the First World War and modern intelligence practices
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'The word 'seminal' is all too often applied to books, but in the case of Haig's Intelligence it is thoroughly deserved … [Beach's] findings about Haig's relations with his intelligence officers feed directly into one of the most studied and controversial aspects of the field, and need to be integrated into existing scholarship on British high command in the First World War.' Gary Sheffield, War in History

    'Beach's superbly researched and carefully argued study is a rejoinder to … blinkered interpretations of the BEF's war and the role of the army's intelligence system in shaping it … Beach has written what will come to be seen as the definitive work on the BEF's intelligence system.' James Kitchen, Twentieth Century British History

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    Customer reviews

    31st Mar 2014 by Robbo

    War is an uncertain business. Unlike a board game, where an opponent’s pieces are laid out for all to see, war is waged with imprecise information, some contradictory, some incorrect, and muddied by the enemy’s deception measures. Haig’s Intelligence: GHQ and the German Army 1916 -1918 is a seminal piece of work that sheds considerable light on the British Army’s efforts on the Western Front to clear the fog, and provide commanders with an estimation of the German forces opposing them on which to base their operational decisions. The depth and breadth of Dr Beach’s research is breathtaking, as evidenced by the copious footnotes on each page. From it he draws a balanced and objective view of this little studied, but important, contribution to winning the Great War. Indeed, it offers a greater scope to the subject than the title suggests. Presented in two parts, the first addresses the development of the British intelligence organisation from its embryonic, pre-war beginnings, through its growth during the war to the armistice. Admirably presented, it provides a fascinating insight into this neglected area of the Great War, including the leading personalties, their disagreements and influence, the development and evolution of the principal collection means, and their relative value in providing information on the German Army, and broader strategic issues. The analysis of the raw material into the finished intelligence product, a process which steadily improved as the war progressed, rounds out a thoroughly informative portrayal of a system in which many innovations taken for granted today saw the light of day, including signals intelligence and air photography. While the former developed slowly, the latter mushroomed into an astonishing 900,000 prints a month in May 1918. In the shadowy world of espionage many of us are familiar with agents parachuted into occupied France during the Second World War - Dr Beach highlights this first occurred behind the Western Front, together with the less predictable means of inserting them using balloons! The work of these networks provided valuable information on German troop movements. The second part discusses how the intelligence product influenced operational decisions, and particularly Haig, during 1916 to 1918. Pitched primarily at strategic intelligence, what emerges is the focus on German morale, both on the home front and in the German Army, the losses they sustained, and the means by which they were calculated, including captured paybooks. Together this information fed assessments on the size and locations of German reserves behind the Western Front - indicators of their capacity to defend a specific sector, or as shown in 1918 the size and location of their offensives, - but more importantly in Haig’s mind, their ability to sustain an effective army. Dr Beach demonstrates how these assessments influenced decisions, providing a much more rounded picture on the complexities of operational planning. While not always correct, the British intelligence system, both collection and analysis, steadily improved, and by 1918 was producing reasonably accurate assessments of German capabilities and intentions. Central to this is the controversial Brigadier General John Charteris, Haig’s Head of Intelligence, generally accepted as providing his chief with overly optimistic reports on the German Army’s morale and imminent collapse. Beach delivers an objective view, suggesting that while Charteris was overly optimistic at times this was not always the case, and part of the problem was Haig’s own optimistic views. Objective, fair and balanced in its analysis, meticulously researched, and clear in its presentation Haig’s Intelligence is a welcome addition to the historiography of the Great War. It will appeal to those wishing to gain a more informed insight into the complexities of the Great War, than the more popular works that have shaped our perceptions over the past 60 years.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107519275
    • length: 386 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.52kg
    • contains: 17 b/w illus. 3 maps 20 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I:
    1. Organisation
    2. Leadership
    3. Personnel
    4. Front line
    5. Espionage
    6. Photography
    7. Signals
    8. Analysis
    Part II:
    9. Somme
    10. Arras
    11. Third Ypres
    12. Cambrai
    13. German offensives
    14. Hundred days.

  • Author

    Jim Beach, University of Northampton
    Dr Jim Beach is Senior Lecturer in Twentieth-Century History at the University of Northampton. He is also Secretary of the Army Records Society.

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