British Signals Intelligence in the Trenches, 1915-1918: Part 2, Interpreter Operators

Jim Beach, James Bruce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

This article uses prosopographical techniques to examine around 150 First World War signals intelligence personnel. Designated as ‘Interpreter Operators’ by the British army, these German-speakers listened to enemy and friendly messages that had leaked from telephone lines or were deliberately transmitted through the ground. Drawn from diverse ethnographic backgrounds, these men offer up a fascinating case study of an army harnessing language skills to support their military endeavours. They also highlight a paradoxical challenge facing all intelligence organisations; that in order to understand an opponent you must often employ those
with close personal or familial connections to that enemy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Intelligence History
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 8 Feb 2019

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interpreter
military
First World War
telephone
intelligence
personnel
Military
language
Trench
Interpreter
Operator
Enemy
British Army
Telephone
Familial
German Speakers
Language Skills
Opponents
Army
Ethnographic

Keywords

  • Signals intelligence; communications security; First World War; Western Front; British Expeditionary Force; Royal Engineers

Cite this

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issn = "1616-1262",
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British Signals Intelligence in the Trenches, 1915-1918: Part 2, Interpreter Operators. / Beach, Jim; Bruce, James.

In: Journal of Intelligence History, 08.02.2019.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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AB - This article uses prosopographical techniques to examine around 150 First World War signals intelligence personnel. Designated as ‘Interpreter Operators’ by the British army, these German-speakers listened to enemy and friendly messages that had leaked from telephone lines or were deliberately transmitted through the ground. Drawn from diverse ethnographic backgrounds, these men offer up a fascinating case study of an army harnessing language skills to support their military endeavours. They also highlight a paradoxical challenge facing all intelligence organisations; that in order to understand an opponent you must often employ thosewith close personal or familial connections to that enemy.

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