‘BLINKER’ HALL: SPYMASTER. The Man Who Brought America Into World War 1 by Mark Barnes

This is a solid good read about a brilliant, somewhat shadowy man who is worthy of heroic status

‘BLINKER’ HALL: SPYMASTER. The Man Who Brought America Into World War 1. By David Ramsay

Ok, hands up those of you who have heard of ‘Blinker’ Hall. I hadn’t until I read this fascinating book and I am really pleased I found it.Admiral William Reginald Hall was the Director of Naval Intelligence from 1914 to 1919. During this time his team of cryptanalysts broke the German diplomatic codes and were able to keep one jump ahead of the ‘Wicked Huns’ intensions.

By far the most significant event was the decoding of the ‘Zimmerman telegram’ of 1917 when the German foreign minister passed on instructions to his ambassador in the United States to warn Washington that Germany would return to unrestricted submarine warfare after a halt which the Wilson administration and Berlin had agreed. In the event of war, Zimmerman wanted Mexico to form an alliance with Germany against America and offered financial aid and support to conquer the lost territories of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. It is not difficult to imagine the explosive nature of this amazing document, which Hall carefully revealed to US diplomats in London. It was treated with incredulity and a great deal of scepticism in the United States where support for the Allied cause was far from universal. But Hall succeeded and was helped from totally unexpected quarters when Zimmerman admitted he had sent the telegram. America declared war on Germany. The rest, as they say, is history.

The book covers so much more than the Zimmerman episode. The breathtaking naïveté of the German naval high command, the Admiralstab, is only occasionally matched by the British Admiralty’s poor handling of intelligence provided by Hall and his team from Room 40. At Jutland the British could have completely destroyed the High Seas Fleet if Beatty had been given all the information Hall had passed up the chain. It was the crushing victory the whole Royal Navy was begging for; but poor decision making allowed the Germans to escape with enough British scalps to claim a spurious victory.

There is much to read about the unending war against the submarine menace, Zeppelins and even German attempts to use germ warfare against the donkeys and horses bought in South America by the Allies. Other bits of subterfuge and the introduction and descriptions of some very famous and not so well known people add to the package. It gives a great insight into the machinations of the Royal Navy.

This is a solid good read about a brilliant, somewhat shadowy man who is worthy of heroic status. He died in 1943, having not given up serving his country to the very end. The book concludes with analysis of British intelligence in World War II and after and offers a scathing look at the Blair regime’s handling of the notorious ’45 minute’ Iraqi Scud launch warning of 2003. In a comparison to the work of Hall and his heirs it is clear that in the race to war against Saddam, all the fundamentals set in place by Hall were cast aside by Blair and Alastair Campbell. If this is accurate, then it is a shame the author did not publish his book several years ago, so they could learn; but better late than never.

Published by The History Press Ltd.
ISBN-13: 978-1862274655 £20.00


Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.