CAB 81, War Cabinet and Cabinet: Committees and Sub-Committees of the Chiefs of Staff Committee: Minutes and Papers, 1939-1947
This series of records contains the wartime minutes and papers of the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee (JIC). The collection is divided into three discrete sections and covers the period August 1939 to December 1946. The first section contains the minutes of the JIC, which are found in pieces CAB 81/87-94, with the second section, containing the papers of the JIC, comprising pieces CAB 81/95-135. The collection ends with a series of intelligence-related material produced by various committees and sub-committees appointed by the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COS) to assist the JIC in its work, including the records of the Biological Warfare Intelligence Committee, the Axis Planning Section, and the Intelligence Priorities Committee. Those papers designated with an “O” relate to operational matters.
During this period, the JIC usually met on a weekly basis at Carlton Terrace in Whitehall. Initially, the membership of the JIC was composed of the intelligence chiefs of the three services (War Office, Admiralty, and Air Ministry) chaired by a Foreign Office official. At the JIC’s 34th meeting in June 1940 it was agreed that full membership should be extended to the Security Service (MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), and the Ministry of Economic Warfare represented by Colonel H. Allen, Colonel S. Menzies, and Professor N. Hall respectively.
The content of the early minutes and papers are focused primarily on the outbreak of war and Nazi Germany’s military campaign in Europe. The subjects covered are varied and include the security of Anglo-French cyphers, the vulnerability of Russian oil supplies, and the possibility of a German secret weapon – the latter discussed at the JIC’s 7th meeting in October 1939 (see CAB 81/98). Although the development of a death ray was ruled out, other advances were thought to include “a new gun, explosive incendiary or chemical substance.” In the early stages of the war, a particular area of concern for the JIC was to establish German military intentions. The JIC papers covering the period May to July 1940 (CAB 81/97) portray a grim determination to stand alone against Nazi aggression. Meeting in May 1940, the JIC concluded that Germany’s ultimate objective was to conquer England starting with the invasion of Kent “which would be undertaken ruthlessly and regardless of cost.” By June it was believed that the invasion of Britain “will be for Germany her culminating effort of the war” which would be conducted with upmost intensity regardless of the cost. Following the fall of France in July 1940, invasion seemed imminent with the JIC reporting that “large scale raids on the British Isles involving all three arms may take place at any moment.” It was believed that the success of a German invasion would rely on the use of sabotage operations undertaken by a ‘Fifth Column’ and that it would be possible for a small group of well-armed saboteurs to attack aerodromes and keep fighters on the ground “just when the first major air attack was due to arrive in this country.” Ultimately the German invasion of Britain was postponed indefinitely and contingency plans for the evacuation of coastal towns in the south of England placed on hold.
The German invasion of Russia in June 1941 followed by the United States’ entry into the war in December of that year began to turn the tide in Britain’s favor. As the threat of German invasion receded, the JIC were able to give more attention to long-term strategy and assessments of German intentions. In a paper circulated to the Chiefs of Staff in December 1942, which can be found in CAB 81/112, the JIC examined German strategic objectives in 1943. The paper confirmed the view that Germany was now losing the war and that Britain had reached “a critical moment when the duration if not the final outcome of the war may be dependent on the vigour of allied action during the winter.” The JIC believed that the Russian front would remain Hitler’s chief preoccupation and that Germany’s strategy in the West would be fundamentally defensive. Although Germany would seek to keep Italy in the war, they would be prepared to concentrate their forces on defending the Balkans and leave Italy to its own fate. It was realized that the war in the Atlantic would be intensified with increased air and submarine attacks directed against allied shipping.
Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945, attention was focused on maintaining order in the allied zones of occupation and planning for the future reconstruction of Germany. The winter of 1945 posed many problems for the British administration, including the threat of organized resistance. In a paper entitled Dangers to the Occupying Powers written in December 1945 (CAB 81/131), the JIC concluded that although there was no imminent sign of civil unrest “the severe conditions of life in the coming winter may, however, drive the population in desperation to riots and street demonstrations.” The future relationship with Russia was a further area of concern for the JIC. It was believed that Moscow would now seek to increase its influence throughout the world and that those “liberated” countries in Eastern Europe would be forced to align their military, economic and political systems closely with the Soviet Union. In its assessment of Soviet intentions written in December 1945, the JIC concluded that this process was already underway: “Russia intends to take no risks in Romania, Bulgaria and Poland and to use every means to maintain in power Russian controlled stooge administration.” The fate of Eastern Europe and Russia’s desire to extend and consolidate its influence would occupy the JIC for the remainder of the Cold War.
Dr. Stephen Twigge, Head of Modern Collections, The National Archives, UK