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Response to Review no. 546

I would like to begin by thanking Mr Todd for his thoughtful and generally positive review of my latest book. I am, of course, gratified that he regards the research I have undertaken as extremely thorough. I am also pleased that he believes that I have successfully established the credibility and value of service attaché reports as a source for understanding British foreign policy, and that I have achieved my main objective of showing that, contrary to some claims, the British government received real and meaningful military and naval intelligence of a ‘German menace’ before 1914. Further, given the high esteem in which I hold the work of Paul Kennedy, I am flattered if Mr Todd thinks some of my conclusions might necessitate a revision of some of the Professor’s ideas.

Naturally, I would like to use this response to comment briefly on those areas that Mr Todd regards as the book’s limitations. These fall largely into the sphere of points omitted that he believes should have been included, and points included that he feels could perhaps have been omitted, or, in any event, given less prominence. Beginning first with the question of issues not covered, I would like to say that I agree entirely with him that it would have been desirable to explore more aspects of service attaché reporting. Indeed, I would go further and say that having spent several years searching for, locating, reading, and re-reading every scrap of paper I could find with a bearing on the work of these officers, nobody would have been happier than I to have covered every nuance of their activities in detail. Sadly, space did not permit this. Although Oxford University Press very generously allowed me to go 30,000 words over the original contract length of the book, even with this concession I still had to be extremely selective. Topics such as the attachés’ contribution to evaluating German vulnerability to blockade—an issue that I agree is interesting and important—simply had to be cut from the manuscript. This was certainly regrettable, but sadly also unavoidable.

In addition to the general consideration of the limits of available space, there are also specific reasons for the omission of other potentially-desirable issues. A long list would be tedious, but one example might suffice. Take my decision not to cover the role of the attachés in the July Crisis. This can be explained largely by the circumstances of the time. The summer was then, as now, a time when many people went on holiday. Lieutenant-Colonel Russell, for example, was away from Berlin entertaining the American diplomat Joseph Grew at his mother’s home at Ampthill in Bedfordshire when the crisis broke. Although he hurried back to Berlin, by the time he got there events were already rushing to their denouement and he soon found himself heading back to the United Kingdom along with the rest of the British embassy staff. Personally, I rather like this story, and could have told it in the book with some interesting anecdotes from the Grew papers to give it human interest, but in the end I felt that, with space at a premium, explaining the absence of this issue from the text would have been a luxury.

As for those areas of attaché reporting that I chose to include, this was often dictated by the serendipitous survival of sources. For those interested in such matters, my forthcoming Navy Records Society volume on intelligence from Berlin (due out in 2007) will provide a detailed summary of how and why certain reports from the naval attachés in Germany survived while so many others did not. In brief, however, it was often down to luck. For example, the creation of an independent Air Force in 1918, and the concomitant establishment of an Air Ministry, led to the transfer of numerous files relating to ‘aerial navigation’ from the Admiralty and War Office to this new department. Had they stayed in their original homes they would almost certainly have been destroyed when the other attaché reports held by these departments were ‘weeded’. Yet, by virtue of their transfer, this often did not happen. Hence, there is still a relatively copious supply of materials on the reporting of the service attachés on German aviation and, more importantly, a large body of documents bearing on the influence of these reports in the development and evolution of British aviation policy. A similar corpus of attaché material with the responses of the service ministries does not exist in those areas—fire control, artillery, etc.—that Mr Todd suggests (contestably, in my view) are more significant. The decision to use aviation rather than gunnery as one of the principal case studies followed from this. Similar reasoning accounts for the selection of the other case studies.

These minor points aside, I find myself in general agreement with much of what Mr Todd has to say. In particular, I am pleased to accept his judgement that my study will bring the sources I have used back to the fore. Likewise, if I have not covered every facet of the work of the service attachés, I am pleased that he holds it to my credit that ‘many more questions are raised than it is possible to answer in one work’. After all, as historians, stretching the boundaries of knowledge is surely what we are trying to do.