Pen & Sword Books

Friday, December 2, 2022

Reading Hitler's Mind - The Intelligence Failure that led to WW2

Reading Hitler's Mind - The Intelligence Failure that led to WW2 written by

Norman Ridley and published by Frontline Books - £20 - Hardback - Pages 240

Most strongly associated with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, it is often stated that

Britain’s policy of appeasement was instituted in the 1930s in the hope of avoiding war

with Hitler’s Nazi Germany. At the time, appeasement was viewed by many as a popular

and seemingly pragmatic policy.

In this book the author sets out to show how appeasement was not a naïve attempt to secure a lasting peace by resolving German grievances, but a means of buying time for rearmament. By the middle of the 1930s, British policy was based on the presumption that the balance of power had already dramatically shifted in Germany’s favour. It was felt that Britain, chiefly for economic reasons, was unable to restore the balance, and that extensive concessions to Germany would not satisfy Hitler, whose aggressive policies intensified the already high risk of war..

The only realistic option, and one that was clearly adopted by Neville Chamberlain, was to try to influence the timing of the inevitable military confrontation and, in the meantime, pursue a steady and economically sustainable programme of rearmament. Appeasement would ‘buy’ that time for the British government.

Crucially this strategy required continuously updated and accurate information about the strength, current and future, of the German armed forces, especially the Luftwaffe, and an understanding of their military strategy. Piercing the Nazis’ veil of secrecy was vital if the intelligence services were to build up a true picture of the extent of German rearmament and the purposes to which it might be put.

The many agents, codebreakers, and counter-espionage personnel played a vital role in maximising the benefits that appeasement provided – even as war clouds continued to gather. These individuals were increasingly handed greater responsibility in a bid to inform British statesmen now scrambling to prepare for a catastrophic confrontation with Germany.

In Reading Hitler’s Mind, Norman Ridley reveals the remarkable efforts made by the tiny, underfunded and often side-lined British intelligence services as they sought to inform those whose role it was to make decisions upon which the wheels of history turned.

This was quite a fascinating read in that it looks at the outbreak of World War Two from a diplomatic viewpoint with regard to the diplomatic services. A department that was in reality underfunded at this time sought to give advice and set the boundaries and aims to the then prime minister Chamberlain. The book also looks at the German intelligence side of things as well as the British role in the run-up to war, and what is good is that we see information about the various conferences and what came about from them. But at the end of the day, Hitler would do what he wanted, so it is intriguing to see how some people were fooled. An excellent book and quite thought-provoking, and certainly a book I would recommend.

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