Overview of the Collection

Secret Files from World Wars to Cold War: Intelligence, Strategy and Diplomacy provides access to British government secret intelligence and foreign policy files from 1873 to 1953, with the majority of files dating from the 1930s and 1940s. Spanning four key twentieth century conflicts, with a spotlight on the Second World War, the material, sourced from The National Archives, U.K., enables rich research into intelligence, foreign policy, international relations, and military history in the period of Appeasement, through the Second World War, and into the early Cold War.

At the heart of this resource are the files of the Permanent Undersecretary’s Department (PUSD). The PUSD was the point of liaison between the Foreign Office and the British intelligence establishment, and these files document intelligence activities and their influence on foreign policy from 1873 to 1951, providing new insights into key moments of twentieth-century history. Topics that can be researched in the PUSD files include:

  • planning for major operations such as Overlord and Torch
  • civilian morale in Axis nations
  • the policies of Vichy France
  • Japanese wartime strategy
  • the plight of prisoners of war
  • the threat of nuclear war
  • Anglo-American cooperation
  • U.K. preparations for war with Soviet Russia

The PUSD files can be found in the series FO 1093.

In addition, the following eight series are included, either in their entirety or selections in part (further information on the selection process is detailed in the Methodology):

  • CAB 56 Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee: Minutes and Memoranda, 1936-1939
  • CAB 81 War Cabinet and Cabinet: Committees and Sub-committees of the Chiefs of Staff Committee: Minutes and Papers, 1939-1947
  • CAB 158 Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office: Central Intelligence Machinery: Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee later Committee: Memoranda (JIC Series), 1946-1968
  • CAB 159 Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office: Central Intelligence Machinery: Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee later Committee: Minutes (JIC Series), 1947-1968
  • CAB 163 War Cabinet, Ministry of Defence, and Cabinet Office: Central Intelligence Machinery: Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee, later Committee: Secretariat: Files, 1939-1986
  • CAB 176 War Cabinet, Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office: Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee, later Committee: Secretariat: Minutes (JIC(SEC)), 1942-1957
  • CAB 301 Cabinet Office: Cabinet Secretary's Miscellaneous Papers, 1936-1952
  • HW 1 Government Code and Cypher School: Signals Intelligence Passed to the Prime Minister, Messages and Correspondence, 1940-1945

One of the highlights of the resource, the HW 1 series, consists of original intelligence reports from German, Japanese, Italian, and other nations' signals that were intercepted, deciphered, and translated by the British Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. Covering the period 1940 to 1945, the HW 1 files include reports derived from high-grade cyphers such as ENIGMA. These reports were delivered to Winston Churchill in batches several times each day throughout the Second World War, and in many cases include Churchill’s own handwritten annotations in red ink.

Taken together, the nine series included in Secret Files from World Wars to Cold War provide an almost day-by-day, in-depth study of the history of the Second World War, its causes, course, and consequences, and the early Cold War, from a high-level government and secret intelligence perspective.

Topics covered by the documents in the collection include:

  • Allied Military Operations, for example: Operation Overlord, Operation Torch, and Operation Husky
  • Intelligence strategy and espionage
  • Axis movements, operations, and Allied defence strategies
  • British efforts to bring the U.S. into the war
  • Japanese and German war crimes including accounts and reports of atrocities and deaths in concentration camps
  • The Japanese invasion of China and the Sino-Japanese war
  • Jewish insurgency in Palestine
  • The rise of communism in China and the spread of communism to South-East Asia
  • The Korean War
  • The Cold War, weapons technology, and nuclear warfare post-1945
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