Book Review: The Unseen War in Europe (John H. Waller) : WW2


The Unseen War in Europe
by John H. Waller, Random House, New York, 1996, $35.Faithful to its title, this book details the clandestine intelligence operations conducted by the Allies and Germany in the late 1930s and during World War II. Many of the events covered in the book will be familiar to students of World War II history–the von Fritsch affair, the assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich, Operation Torch–but are told this time with the benefit of additional scholarship by a man who had firsthand experience with covert operations. Against this well-known historical backdrop, the author develops two main sub-plots that have until now only been hinted at: the activities of the so-called German Resistance, a more-or-less organized group of senior German military and government officials who were fundamentally opposed to Adolf Hitler, and the life and career of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, a leading Resistance member and head of the Abwehr, the German Military Intelligence.

Waller gives due credit to the considerable contributions of technical intelligence gathering to the success of the Allied war effort. The breaking of German codes–the so-called Ultra intelligence–proved to be one of the most valuable assets the Allies had. The information it provided enabled the British to survive the Battle of Britain and gave the Allies an advantage (one that was not always adequately exploited) on both strategic and tactical levels. While it probably was not the author’s intention, his book tends to demonstrate the superiority of technical over human intelligence gathering.

The book is well-written, entertaining and informative, a good combination for a history book. It contains insights on the gathering and use of intelligence that could be helpful to modern policy-makers.

John I. Witmer




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