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Ode to British Naval Intelligence

By Thomas J. Stanley on Mar 11th, 2010 in Studying the Wealthy

In my last blog I discussed the importance of trade journals in identifying millionaire business owners. But where did the idea of reading trade journals originate?  It did not come from any of the marketing or marketing research textbooks that I lectured from for over twenty years. It was my lifelong interest in military history that served me well. My inspiration came from reading about the methods of British naval intelligence during World War I and World War II. British operatives in Germany would scan numerous periodicals and newspapers for any clues about the identities and activities of U-boat captains, for example. The smallest citation in a village newspaper might reveal that “Capt. Hans Schultz of U-124 would be arriving at home on Saturday but would be shipping out of Brest, France on the morning tide a week from Monday.” One or two of these items might not be particularly important. But combined with possibly 100s of other reports, patterns would emerge. Plus the British often broadcast via propaganda radio into Germany reporting when Capt. Schultz would be shipping out. The British hoped that this type of broadcast would be disheartening to the German military personnel affected. Logically they might think that there were spies within the upper echelons of the German navy.


In a recent Wall Street Journal article by Nicholas Rankin, he lists the “Five Best: The British talent for wartime trickery and misdirection is fully revealed by these books.” Ranked number one was David Ramsey’s biography of Blinker Hall, ‘Blinker’ Hall. Blinker Hall was the genius behind the development of British naval intelligence. And he also had a sense of humor. “When a German spy, in whose arrest Hall had played a part, was given a very light sentence by Mr Justice Bray, on the grounds that he was only passing back to Germany the location of British factories, which the learned judge considered to be ‘targets of no military importance’, Hall was furious and took care to send back a report to Germany, in the spy’s name, which gave the position of the judge’s country house as the site of another factory.  Not long afterwards Hall found himself seated at dinner next to Mr Justice Bray, who was bemoaning the fact that his house had been subjected to a rain of bombs from marauding Zeppelins, and that he had narrowly escaped with his life! Hall’s delighted rejoinder was, “Well, it was not a target of any military importance, was it?” [see Patrick Beesley, Room 40: British Naval Intelligence, 1914-18, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1982, pp 37-38].


Over the years people have suggested that I could put together a “list of millionaires” by merely accessing the registration records of those people who drive prestige makes of motor vehicles, as an example. But, as I have often said, 86% of those people are not millionaires. I much prefer to scan the trade journals of those industries which have high concentrations of affluent business owners for my “list.”  I especially enjoy interviewing  those who are euphoric because, according to their trade journal, they were just awarded a $10 million contract!

3 responses to “Ode to British Naval Intelligence”

  1. Charles Welborne says:

    These posts are great, they really help us understand the idea of image vs reality.

    Note: you might want to check your spelling of the biography author’s name in paragraph 2…people might get the wrong idea (that’s kinda funny, though).

  2. Sam Pittsburgh says:

    Great stories….but its a good thing we helped our British friends…..no amount of cunning and sleuthing work would have allowed them to defeat the Nazis until we came to their aid…

  3. philip vickers says:

    Interested in your Room 40 information. A new book will be published in 2013 on Room 40’s work in the Western Med in WWI> Some , some of Ramsay’s resaerch is flawed but he could not have known this. Would this interest you,in due course ? Philip V.

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