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

Jim Beach, James Bruce

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


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
Pages (from-to)24-50
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Intelligence History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sep 2019


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


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