Book Review: 'Blinker' Hall: Spymaster: The Man Who Brought America into World War I


by David Ramsay

Stroud, Clouc., Eng.: The History Press, Spellmount/Chicago, International Publishers Group, 2010. Pp. 320. Illus., notes, index. $29.95 paper. ISBN: 075245398X

Naval historian Ramsay, author of Lusitania: Saga and Myth (2002), gives us the first real biography of Reginald ‘Blinker’ Hall (1870-1943), who ran the Royal Navy’s Intelligence Division during the Great War, previous works, and even Hall’s autobiography, all having run afoul of Britain’s secrecy laws. 

Hall helped developed many then-new intelligence tools, such as traffic analysis, was instrumental in advancing Britain’s cryptogrphic capabilities, establishing the famed "Room 40" decrypt operation, and even made use of covert operations and special agents in the furtherance of information gathering.  But more importantly, Hall pressed to tie intelligence activities more closely to operational planning, though not always with success.  In the course of this work, Ramsay addresses and rebuts several ‘conspiracy’ theories involving Hall, notably that he “set up” the torpedoing of the liner Lusitantia in order to bring the United States into the war.  Ramsay alsodiscusses the admiral’s important role in the affair of the “Zimmermann Note,” which did help bring America into the war, and also takes a look at Hall’s longer term influence on the Royal Navy’s intelligence services. 

A very important book for anyone interested in the naval and diplomatic aspects of the Great War or in intelligence operations.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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