Skip to content

The Services 1930 - 1956:

Intelligence Corps

Intelligence, in terms of the Army definition of the word, means information from credible and reliable sources that is suitable for assessment and interpretation, leading to gaining an understanding of the dispositions of enemy forces, their capability and intention.

The British Army formed intelligence organisations as and when required, generally during a military campaign. The first Duke of Marlborough is quoted as saying that ‘no war can be conducted successfully without early and good intelligence’. It was during the Boer War of 1899 – 1901 that the first structured intelligence gathering units were formed. Field intelligence officers were employed with combat troops and staff intelligence officers based at formation headquarters to analyse this information and ensure it was disseminated accordingly.

At the end of the Boer War the intelligence units disbanded, but fortunately a Lieutenant Colonel David HENDERSON from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders wrote a manual entitled ‘Field Intelligence, Its Principles and Practice’ in 1904. There was no dedicated intelligence function in the War Office prior to the First World War, with the small function underfunded. A small counter intelligence section known as MI5 (Military Intelligence Section 5) was established in 1909. Three years later, another section entitled MI6 was established under Commander Mansfield CUMMING (known simply as ‘C’) in order to control the gathering of intelligence overseas.

On the outbreak of the First World War on the 5 August 1914, an Intelligence Corps was formed. A number of Army officers, Metropolitan Police officers and other civilians suitable for call-up had been identified in the run up to the war. About fifty or so individuals received a telegram inviting them to join the newly formed Intelligence Corps with effect from the 5 August. The corps comprised a Headquarter, Dismounted, Mounted, Motorcycle and Security Duties Sections. All the personnel were officers, with the only other ranks being batman who were enlisted in 10 (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.

On the 12 August 1914, the embryo corps embarked at Southampton for France with the British Expedition Force. With the end of hostilities, the corps was run down; to be disbanded in 1929. The intelligence function was neglected in the build-up to the Second World War. At the War Office, military intelligence was part of the Directorate of Military Operations and Intelligence. All the officers in the directorate were regimental officers serving a period on the staff. At unit level, each battalion or regiment had a subaltern whose role was intelligence officer, but there were no dedicated intelligence personnel within units or formations.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, two officers, Major (later Field Marshal) Gerald TEMPLER and Captain F. C. DAVIES, M.C., undertook to organise and train personnel to work in the field. This initiative allowed no less than thirty-one field security sections to be deployed to France with the British Expeditionary Force.

The events in France showed the need for dedicated personnel with appropriate skills and abilities (in particular language skills) in order to obtain meaningful intelligence for use by units and formations. The King signed the Royal Warrant on the 15 July 1940 authorising the creation of the Intelligence Corps, with effect from the 19 July 1940.

The corps grew rapidly during the war, eventually reaching 3,040 officers and 5,930 other ranks. In addition, 1,053 officers were attached to the Intelligence Corps. When the Intelligence Corps was formed, officers and men were transferred in from other Arms and Services. The corps only started to accept direct entry officers in 1958.

The intelligence officers at unit level remained regimental officers, but at divisional level, a General Staff Officer Second Grade (G.S.O. 2) (Intelligence) and General Staff Officer Third Grade (G.S.O. 3) (Intelligence) formed a headquarters intelligence section. This included collators and clerks who were members of the Intelligence Corps.

The most common unit within the Intelligence Corps was the Field Security Section. Each division had one section allocated. The War Establishment of a section was:

Captain or Lieutenant (officer commanding);
Warrant Officer Class II;
2 x Serjeants;
4 x Corporals;
4 x Lance Corporals.

Each section had two Jeeps (Car 5 cwt 4 x 4) and nine motorcycles allocated. As an example of the work of a field security section is that of 11 Field Security Section, which formed part of the 53 (Welsh) Infantry Division. The unit was not intended to operate independently, for instance it was not allocated a cook, yet in practice it did operate independently of any other headquarters or unit.

During the campaign in North West Europe, the section searched one-hundred and fifty-eight security targets. Two of these were found to contain booby-traps. Hundreds of documents were seized and examined. The men opened twenty-one safes using high explosives. Two-hundred alleged collaborators were question and handed over to the respective national authorities. Four-hundred and nineteen detailed interrogations were conducted, in French, Dutch, Flemish, German, Spanish, Russian, Danish and Norwegian. Three-hundred and seventy-four persons were arrested and sent to internment centres. Two sabotage dumps were uncovered, seven spies discovered complete with radio transmitting sets and three saboteurs identified amongst the thousands of refugees who were checked. On top of this, the section organised and supervised the registration of some thirty-thousand civilians.

To organise and train the necessary personnel for the new corps, a headquarter and depot structure was formed. An Officers’ Training Wing was established at Oxford University, with other ranks trained at Winchester. A new headquarters and depot for the corps was established at Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham in Yorkshire, with Schools of Military Intelligence opened at Matlock in Derbyshire and Cambridge. In December 1942, Brigadier W. J. JERVOIS, M.C., p.s.c. was appointed the Commandant, Intelligence Training Establishments, reporting to the Director of Military Training at the War Office.

The Intelligence Corps established a Photographic Interpretation function, analysing aerial photographs taken by the Royal Air Force. Signals intelligence was another area of considerable growth; intercepting enemy communications and breaking their codes to gain valuable intelligence.

The work of Station ‘X’ at Bletchley Park became key to the British ability to read and analyse German military codes, at both strategic and tactical levels. About 40% of the army personnel at Bletchley were cap badged Intelligence Corps. They produced the intelligence codenamed ‘Ultra’, which was provided to the Prime Minister and a few, authorised, senior officers of the three Armed Services.

At the end of the Second World War, a new School of Military Intelligence was opened at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, with the existing schools at Matlock and Cambridge closing. The Intelligence Corps Depot was relocated to Maresfield, near Uckfield in Sussex. It later moved to Templar Barracks at Ashford, named after Field Marshal Gerald TEMPLAR. In 1989, the corps was granted the Freedom of the Borough of Ashford in recognition of the links between the town and the corps.

Back To Top