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MI6: British Secret Intelligence Service Operations, 1909–1945 (Hardback)

WWII WWI British History Frontline Books Espionage & the SOE Pre WWI Frontline: WWI Frontline: WWII Military

By Nigel West
Frontline Books
Pages: 290
Illustrations: 16
ISBN: 9781526755742
Published: 23rd October 2019



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Written by the renowned expert Nigel West, this book exposes the operations of Britain’s overseas intelligence-gathering organisation, the famed Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, and traces its origins back to its inception in 1909. In this meticulously researched account, its activities and structure are described in detail, using original secret service documents.

The main body of the book concerns MI6’s operations during the Second World War, and includes some remarkable successes and failures, including how MI6 financed a glamorous confidant of the German secret service; how a suspected French traitor was murdered by mistake; how Franco’s military advisors were bribed to keep Spain out of the war; how members of the Swedish secret police were blackmailed into helping the British war effort; how a sabotage operation in neutral Tangiers enabled the Allied landings in North Africa to proceed undetected; and how Britain’s generals ignored the first ULTRA decrypts because MI6 said that the information had come from ‘a well-placed source called BONIFACE’.

In this new edition, operations undertaken by almost all of MI6’s overseas stations are recounted in extraordinary detail. They will fascinate both the professional intelligence officer and the general reader.

The book includes organisational charts to illustrate MI6’s internal structure and its wartime network of overseas stations. Backed by numerous interviews with intelligence officers and their agents, this engaging inside story throws light on many wartime incidents that had previously remained unexplained.

As featured on Sky & Bullets

Sky & Bullets

The British Secret Intelligence Service has a strong tradition of secrecy and Nigel West, known for his in-depth knowledge of intelligence matters, has written an absorbing book spanning SIS first 36 years till 1945. At the outbreak of the Second World war the Service, underfunded, was totally unprepared for the swift Germany's swift advance across Europe which left SIS coverage non-existent.

Its role was to gather intelligence but when Churchill's call to set Europe ablaze was made it expected the new organization, Special Operations Executive (SOE), to be part of its remit. Instead it became part of Ministry of Economic Warfare MEW, and throughout the war was seen as a rival. Although its main role was to gather intelligence, in 1940 the Head of the Oslo Station, Commander J.B.Newill he was tasked with securing Norway's gold reserve and rescue the Norwegian Royal Family. The Norwegian King wanted to go north to Tromso, and organise the resistance. London wanted him in Britain. The Royal Navy offered HMS Glasgow to take him to Tromso. When he sailed Oslo Radio announced he had fled to Britain and Swedish authorities announced he would be interned if he entered to Sweden. The only option was to accept a British offer to sail to Scotland on the British cruiser HMS Devonshire.

The task of rebuilding SIS's networks in Europe was helped by foreign national intelligent services who had fled to Britain. One was the Czech Military Intelligence which maintained contact with agents in Prague. Other exiles were the Norwegian Military Intelligence Service and members of the Polish Deuxieme Bureau who escaped to France before evacuating to Britain. They maintained wireless links with stay-behind agents of their own in German occupied Poland. These agents had their own rings including resistance groups in France. The Polish contribution towards defeating Germany was its code-breakers which broke the German Enigma code.

Nigel West's 'Ml6 British Intelligence Service Operations 1909-to-1945 is extraordinary book, a page turner, exposing the names of hundreds of intelligence officers,
details of major intelligence operations, case histories and organizational charts.

Richard Gough, Author and Historian.

Overall, the sheer wealth of the author's meticulous research can be challenging, and the book is probably more accessible to someone with an existing interest than to more casual readers. But the effort is worth it.

Military History Matters, April 2020 – reviewed by David Flintham

As featured on Lost Cousins

Lost Cousins

MI6 by Nigel West is a highly readable book and ought to be a useful source for many years yet to come.

Read the full review here

Lars Gyllenhall, Blogger

I am really enthusiastic about this book and enjoyed reading every page of it... I would certainly recommend this book to anybody with an interest in this subject and I would fully expect Nigel West’s other books to be as similarly detailed and enjoyable.

Read the full review here

Paul & Lucy's Best Kept Secrets

The author has developed a reputation for authoritative histories of the British Intelligence Services with unusual access to their records. This book charts the development of MI6 from 1909 to 1945, during which period it faced the task of gathering information through an arms race and two World Wars. – Most Highly Recommended.

Read the full review here


The MI6 and other intelligence services have always been a bit of intrigue and so I was looking forward to reading this book by Nigel West. Having read this book I would say that you’re not going to be disappointed with this. It starts back from its early days and is very comprehensive in its knowledge. The author clearly knows his stuff as it’s very thorough and well written if anything you could say it was too comprehensive.

The book covers much of the everyday activities along with some of the specialist operations.

Although MI6 did have to contend with other services springing up alongside it, with sometimes toes being trampled upon it has managed to survive through this period. What could be taken from this book and added to is by going into more depth about some of the operations that would make for interesting reads. In conclusion, this is a very thorough book indeed and one that I would wholeheartedly recommend to others to read. A very good 4 out of 5 stars. I look forward to reading his other book on GCHQ published by Frontline Books.

UK Historian

I suppose it's a fact Britain's overseas espionage network came into its own during the second world war, although Britain had been using spies as long ago as during the French Revolution and of course to a greater extent during the first world war. Nigel West's examination of MI6 concentrates to a large extent on second world war missions and activities but then moves forward in time. Some of the cases Nigel describes are worthy of spy fiction, but the entire book is utterly fascnating and informative. Brilliant!

Books Monthly

While finding this volume to be well-researched and easy to read... this book may appeal to a variety of readers. Military Historians may find its content informative, as may readers with an interest in military history, espionage and general military operations during World War II. Readers seeking a story of ‘Daring Do’, ‘Cloak and Dagger’ and ‘Spies and Counter Spies’ might also find it worthy of their attention.

Keith Rimmer, NZ Crown Mines

A very interesting book that gives an excellent background to the British Secret Intelligence Service's early years. I will certainly be on the lookout for some of Nigel Wests other books on the other intelligence services.

Read the full review here

Iron Mammoth's Studio

Although the events in this book happened over a century ago now, this is a page-turning book, much of it following events in different countries, hotting up in the world wars. The tailpiece of the book looks at the moles in the SIS as well as some who were checked for having similar profiles and cleared. It’s also interesting seeing references to the likes of Ian Fleming, Graham Greene and Malcolm Muggeridge prior to their careers as writers. If you’re into spy fiction, the information about the real thing and if any author used its structuring will show which ones did their homework or probably involved themselves.

Read the full review here

SF Crowsnest

About Nigel West

NIGEL WEST is an intelligence specialist and critically acclaimed author. Such is his depth of knowledge in these fields that The Sunday Times noted that, ‘His information is often so precise that many people believe he is the unofficial historian of the secret services. His books are peppered with deliberate clues to potential front-page stories.’ In 1989 West was voted ‘The Experts’ Expert’ by the Observer.

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