Vol. 1. Edited by Tessa Stirling, Daria Nałęcz, and Tadeusz Dubicki. Foreword by Tony Blair and Marek Belka. Illustrations, summary, index. London-Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell (email@example.com), 2005. ISBN 0-85303-656-X. xxiii + 586 pages. Hardcover. £55.00 in Britain, $75.00 in the United States.
The contributions of intelligence to military victory were formerly seen as secondary at best. Indeed, until recently, scholars saw studies of intelligence activities as popular history and unworthy of serious consideration by academics. Judging by the amount of work that has been produced in the last thirty years, it is clear that this prejudice is steadily eroding. Serious scholarship has emerged to showcase the impact that intelligence activities have had on internal and diplomatic areas.
In the last ten to twenty years, much of this scholarship has examined the role intelligence has played in diplomatic and military relationships. The trend is to examine cooperative efforts between countries. While the Anglo-American relationship has received the bulk of the scholarship, the cooperative efforts of others have seen less attention. The book under review strives to fill in one of the blanks concerning Great Britain and her allies, in this case Poland, and their intelligence relationship in the Second World War
It is clear that from the outset this was a daunting task for the committee of editors. There was a tremendous amount of information gleaned from both British and American archival sources, in particular the Public Records Office (PRO) and the National Archives in the U.S. (NARA), as well as outside Polish sources. What was lacking were the documents from the Polish intelligence groups that operated during the war. It became evident that the entire collection was destroyed at the end of the war after being turned over to British intelligence officials. As a result, there are a number of questions raised that, in all likelihood, would have been answered by those now-missing documents. However, what remains still creates a picture of Polish contributions to the war effort that until now have only been credited in the area of code decryption.
This first volume is divided into an introductory section that discusses the methodology of the committee’s efforts; a historical section; and then six parts that examine the information gleaned from American, British, and Polish sources. Of these sections, part IV is probably the most difficult to read through, although it offers the greatest amount of information. This section aimed at covering every intelligence station or cell operated by the Poles. The goal was to showcase the continued war effort of the Second Bureau, or the Polish Intelligence organization, making it clear that while Poland may have been under occupation, its spirit was not. Although fascinating in many respects, there are too many short, one-to-four-page chapters. Many of the various countries that these chapters focus on did not require such separate treatment. There were, however, some interesting elements in the chapters, such as the British SIS’s habit of handing reports over to Americans, but not identifying them as Polish-generated (354). I would also take issue with the statement by Jan Stanisław Ciechanowski regarding Polish activity in the United States and their treatment by the same. He writes, “The ultimate Allied decision was to hand over Poland to the Soviet Sphere of Influence” (361). While history cannot deny that Poland was lost to the Soviet sphere, it can be argued that there was little the United States could have done shy of going to war with the Russians, given the military situation in late 1944-early 1945. This is a minor quibble that does not detract from the massive amount of research presented in this book.
The greatest significance of this volume is contained in its last two parts. Part V examines the intelligence activities of the Home Army (originally named Związek Walki Zbrojnej, the Union of the Armed Struggle). This work gives a more complete picture of Polish activities conducted literally under the noses of the Nazi authorities during the German occupation of Poland. Too often scholars only consider the partisan activities of civilians, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943, or the larger uprising in Warsaw in 1944. The fifth part of this volume details the amount of work done by Home Army operatives, and the incredible amount of information these men and women supplied to the Allied side. In his chapter “Home Army Intelligence Activity,” Andrzej Chmielarz points out that “the most important achievement of Home Army Intelligence was the creation of very modern working methods,” which allowed it to supply “military, economic and industrial reports, not only from Poland, but from the immediate rear of the eastern Front and indeed from German territory” (488). Among this important intelligence was information about V-1 and V-2 production at Peenemunde, German troop strength and movements both prior to and during Barbarossa, and information on economic matters and morale issues.
Part VI contains summaries of the information thus presented. The messages were succinct and informative, but still included important analyses. Daria Nałęcz, the Director General of the Polish State Archives, was too modest when she stated that the Polish contribution to Enigma was the greatest part of their effort (552). Judging from the information contained in this book, it is clear that much more credit is owed to the Poles than has customarily been given. Ms. Nałęcz points out in her summary that of 80,000 reports generated by the Polish stations, over 85 percent were deemed of very high or high quality (557).
As a reviewer, I am left with a number of questions, mostly directed to the Polish authors rather than having to do with a criticism of the work. The case of Colonel Jerzy Iwanov-Szajnowiej is one of those fascinating stories that seems to have been left unfinished. I found myself wondering why he was left to dangle by Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, aka MI-6, or Military Intelligence) and forced to try and escape on his own. Gill Bennett’s summary of the Anglo-Polish cooperative effort in the Middle East makes no mention of this man who was apparently an important figure in Polish intelligence. I agree with the assessment of Jan Ciechanowski that this case “still calls for many more explanations” (375-376). In addition, given the relative efficiency of the British Intelligence groups, I find it curious that important documents relating to the Polish connection would be destroyed without some documentation as to what they contained. One wonders if some secrets are still being held; at the very least, a more detailed answer is owed to the men and women who risked their lives to work for the Allied intelligence.
Although slow in the middle, this work is a critical contribution, and not only to Anglo-Polish relations. More importantly, it is an essential addition to our knowledge of the Polish effort at home and abroad during the entire course of the Second World War. As an addition to the body of intelligence history, it is important to our understanding of how a government in exile created what appears to be an exemplary intelligence structure, albeit with British funding. This is an essential work for any research library, or for any individual examining intelligence cooperation between nations.
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