Few of the great espionage successes of the twentieth century were engineered by dashing, James Bond-type agents. Rather, many of the "heroes" of spying were anonymous people performing seemingly tedious tasks of gathering countless bits of information, analyzing them, and trying to assemble coherent conclusions from them. Sebag-Montefiore is an attorney and journalist. The key players in this saga are not the stuff of which romantic action thrillers are made. Still, the story itself, describing the breaking of the German naval code during World War II, is both engrossing and exciting. Much of the information presented here is based on recently declassified documents. The parade of characters includes ordinary seamen, double agents, and technical experts who manage to^B decipher what seems indecipherable, even to some of their peers. The result is a real-life thriller that should entice historians, fans of the spy genre, and ordinary readers who appreciate a tense, dramatic, and superbly told story. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
In a crowd of books dealing with the Allied breaking of the World War II German cipher machine Enigma, Hugh Sebag-Montifiore has scored a scoop.
The original 1931 solution to Enigma depended on information sold by a German cryptographic employee. In the course of my own researches on code-breaking, I had learned his name (Hans Thilo Schmidt), his Nazi Party number (738,736) and that he was the brother of a renowned panzer general (Rudolf Schmidt). But neither I nor later authors had gone beyond this point. Gestapo records of his arrest had vanished, files of the People's Court which would have tried him, had been destroyed, the name was common, and the events were well over half a century old. It seemed impossible to learn any more about the World War II era's most important spy-more important than Richard Sorge, more important than Cicero, more important to that conflict than even the atomic spies.
Sebag-Montifiore drove beyond the obstacles to find Schmidt's daughter. She depicted an affectionate father whose sife's family business had failed in the great inflation of 1924, who seduced one housemaid after another, who always needed money. She told of seeing him after his arrest by the Gestapo, of giving him cyanide pills, of identifying his body, of his burial in an unmarked grave next to his parents'. Sebag-Montifiore has fleshed out a name, and we historians of the intelligence world are grateful.
The bulk of the book recounts British naval actions mounted to seize the documents that permitted them to set about solving the more complicated Kriegsmarine version of the Enigma. Some of these sagas have been sung before. But not all have. Many new British and American documents have been declassified in recent years, and Sebag-Montifiore, a British journalist, has a remarkable talent in finding survivors. He has used both sources to tell new tales and to add to the old.
Take, for example, the tale of HMS Petard. Its captain wanted desperately to capture a U-boat and seize its Enigma-not realizing that its associated keying papers were more important than the machine itself, whose innards the Allies had long since reconstructed. The destroyer forced U-559 to the surface off Haifa. Its crew abandoned her, and a Royal Navy officer and two seamen swam to enter her and rescue the Enigma and any papers. They managed to send up valuable papers before the submarine sank suddenly, taking them with her. The papers were sent to the British code-breaking establishment at Bletchley Park, a country mansion northwest of London. There British cryptanalysts, who had not been able to crack U-boat Enigma messages for most of 1942, started reading them again.
Such details have already been told. Sebag-Montifiore adds what was happening in U559 while Petard was depth charging it-carbon monoxide made the crew lightheaded, two members panicked-though unfortunately he does not cite any sources for this. He provides more details on the heroism of the British sailors and tells about King George VI decorating a survivor. So although he does not alter our knowledge of the events in any significant way, he does humanize them more.
He also enlarges the story by telling what was happening on the spy front, how the Germans were led to Schmidt, how they failed to learn of early Polish and French solutions to the Enigma, how a U.S. task force also captured a submarine-the U505, now at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. He rightly asserts that Sublieutenant David Balme, whose entering the surfaced U-110 to grab and Enigma perhaps inspired the recent movie "U-571," should have been awarded the George Cross. Six appendixes give technical details.
The books content exceeds its form. It is adequately but not elegantly written. Too many errors of detail and grammar pock it, and the author is prone to cliche. The book's chief merit lies in its new information, though it lacks a summary of the vlaue of the cryptanalysts' work. In addition, a paragraph or two fitting the code battle of the Atlantic into the Allies' great crypologic victory of World War II, which shortened that conflict, would have helped. But the book is superior to the others on its subject. An in a way Sebag-Montifiore is the right man to have written it. His great-great-grandfather once owned Bletchley Park.
--The Washington Post
--This text refers to the CD-ROM edition.
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