by Peter Hore
Barnsley, Eng.: Greenhill / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2021. Pp. xiv, 210+.
Illus., gloss., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1784385816
Women, Signals Intelligence, and Ultra
Retired Royal Navy Captain Hore, the author of a number of naval histories, gives us the story of the several hundred Royal Navy women (“Wrens”) who were the mainstay of the “Y Service”, who monitored German radio communications in support of the British war effort. These young women collected German coded messages, supplying the raw material for the code breakers. They also culled intelligence from traffic analysis and messages in clear, often providing vital information at critical moments in the war.
Hore includes some background on the Wrens, then the personal stories of many these young women, most barely out of their teens, some of whom became casualties in German air or submarine attacks. He weaves these together with the story of how the Y Service came to be and how it evolved, as well as how its work affected the war, into a rather seamless account. We get to see how the work of individual Wrens helped in such operations as the interception and sinking of the Bismarck, the Slapton Sands disaster, several naval battles (Channel Dash, Matapan, etc.), the ongoing small warship clashes in coastal waters, convoy defense, and more.
Bletchley Park’s Secret Source is a good read for anyone interested in the naval side of the war in Europe, intelligence collection and analysis, or the role of women in military service.