View Full Version : Admiral Sir Reginald Hall (The unknown hero of WW1) and Room 40

bob shayler
27-04-2008, 20:13
Born in 1870, Admiral Sir William Hall joined the Royal Navy in 1884. A chronic facial twitch earned him the nick name of ‘Blinker’.
Rising to the rank of Commander in 1898 and Captain in 1905, he became Inspector of Mechanical Training, 1906 – 1907. From 1911 – 1913, he was assistant Controller to the Royal Navy.
At the outbreak of World War One, due as much to ill health as for any other reason, Admiral Hall was appointed Director of Naval Intelligence. In collaboration with Sir Alfred Ewing, they founded the most successful British Navy Intelligence Office, more widely known as ‘Room 40’, quickly establishing radio locating stations along Britain’s East and South East coast. The capture of the German navy Magdeburg code book, early in the war played a significant part in the success of Room 40. This gave the Royal Navy accurate intelligence on the location of every German ship throughout almost the whole of WW1. (The value of this was akin to capturing Enigma in WW2 and gave us a huge advantage over Germany. They were often amazed how unlucky they were to be intercepted by our fleet e.g. at Dogger Bank).
Throughout WW!, Room 40 were able to decrypt many important German signals, allowing our forces to be in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, some of these were not used wisely by the Admiralty or in some cases, distrusted.
One good example was the build up to Jutland. While Jellicoe and Beatty were both moving eastwards with Beatty 70 miles further south, the intention was to turn towards each other at 1400 hrs and meet up to form a single, immense formation. As the hours passed, it became more apparent that the Germans were not at sea and that this would become another routine sweep.
Jellicoe had received a signal at 12:48 that seemed to confirm the Germans were still in port. This had been collected by Capt. Thomas Jackson, Director of the Operations Division of the Admiralty. Apparently, he marched into Room 40 and asked where RDF had placed call sign ‘DK’, used by Scheer’s flag ship, Friedrich der Grosse. He was told the Jade and left Room 40 without making any further enquiries. He made a fatal assumption that ‘DK’ being the flag ships call sign meant that the German battle fleet was still in port. This false information was then transmitted to Jellicoe by Olliver who stated that there was no definite news of the enemy who it was known had made preparations to sail the morning. The assumed reason for delay was their inability to carry out air ship reconnaissance. This led Jellicoe to believe only Battle Cruisers would be coming out initially with Scheer only coming out later to cover their retreat.
Captain Jackson was the victim of a German ruse which Room 40 had known about for some time. Since he had assumed command, Scheer had adopted ‘DK’ as his harbour call sign and when he was at sea, transferred it from Fiedrich der Grosse to a shore wireless station in the Jade. It seemed that Capt. Jackson had a complete lack of respect for the code breakers of Room 40, indeed, only contempt for them. Had he questioned them further, he might have relayed more accurate intelligence to Jellicoe and the outcome of Jutland may well have resulted in a 20th Century Trafalgar. Jellicoe’s only error on receipt of this signal was believing the Operations Division to be competent.
One great coup for Room 40 came in 1917 when the Zimmermann telegram was intercepted and deciphered. This suggested a plot between Mexico and Germany to annex United States territory and played a large part in America’s decision to enter WW1 on the allied side. Room 40 also played a large part in the capture of Sir Roger Casement, a British traitor and Irish patriot. Room 40 also collaborated closely with MI5, MI6 and Special Branch.
Admiral Hall was knighted in 1918 in recognition of his services and left the Royal Navy the following year, becoming the Conservative MP for West Derby, Liverpool.
Between the wars he travelled extensively, lecturing on Intelligence gathering.
In WW2, he served in the British Home Guard until his death in 1943.
Both he and Room 40 were undoubtedly responsible for many successes and the saving of many lives during WW1. Due to the nature of his work he remained largely anonymous in comparison to the likes of Beatty, Jellicoe, Keyes etc.



stewart mcloughlin
27-04-2008, 21:00
Another unsung hero of our secretive backroom boys and girls no doubt.
I have a retired friend who was a secretary in a military/political ? office. When your namesake David was doing his thing about MI5 about 10 years ago, and that Peter Wright in Australia doing his bit, she was most discourteous in references to them revealing our secrets, and she really meant OUR as if she was a part-owner of them. I do believe she was very closely involved in higher up matters, but she will never discuss what she got up too, or even where she did it.
So many, some very non-descript, officials have written their memoirs, that they are tales of no consequence. The real secrets are known only by the secretaries and cleaners who have never said a word! Now if they put pen to paper.....!!!

bob shayler
27-04-2008, 21:19
Hi Stewart,
I sincerely hope my namesake is in 'NO WAY' related to me.
Pleased to hear your friend was tight lipped about her work. This is an essential element of national security. Hope your incorrect about the cleaners knowing as much as they might,

27-04-2008, 21:30
This is an excellent post Bob. I congratulate you on it.

Ah! the Zimmermann telegram! This is worthy of a post on its own. A most remarkable story.

28-04-2008, 01:32
It's all very well criticising Jackson (as Gordon does in his usual snotty manner in "The Rules of the Game"), but at the end of the day it was the duty of the Naval Intelligence Division of the Naval War Staff to supply the Operations Division of the Staff with the information it needed to advise the Board of Admiralty on prosecuting the war.

I never cease to be amazed at how Jackson is villified for this. Why should he assume that the Germans had changed their previous call-sign arrangement? The Intelligence Division obviously hadn't informed him or his Division. Jackson's apparent contempt can only be justified by this incident. That the NID wasn't disseminating crucial information like this doesn't make Jackson look bad - but reflects poorly on "Blinker" Hall.


bob shayler
06-05-2008, 17:55
Admiral Hall in later years,'


18-06-2008, 00:20
A very little known fact I just discovered in my reading the "Her Majesty's Secret Service" by Christopher Andrew. As was pointed out above Room 40 played a part in the capture of Sir Roger Casement. What is less well-known is that "Blinker" Hall knew from the monitored cable traffic of the impending Easter Rising in Ireland, and this is how Casement was captured and a shipment of German arms to the Irish rebels halted by H.M.S. "Bluebell" (and then was scuttled by the German crew). Hall REFUSED to allow knowledge of the upcoming rebellion to be disseminated to the authorities in Ireland and he personally told Casement in jail that he would not let him make a public call for the impending rising to be cancelled. The only way the military in Ireland were aware of anything about to happen was when Admiral Lewis Bayly, commanding at Queenstown happened to mention in passing to a visiting General that something was afoot. Hall is on record as saying that crushing a rebellion would remove a "cankerous sore" from ireland. The events of Easter, 1916 and its consequences are a sensitive topic for me, but needless to say they were tragic and ought not ever to have occurred.

Back to my pilloried friend, Admiral Thomas Jackson, the main evidence of him having no respect for Room 40 seems to have sprouted from the papers of William F. Clarke, a smart-a***ed German-speaking lawyer (the son of the Oscar Wilde's lawyer, as well). The established habit among Jutland historians of lambasting Jackson because of one source (and it does seem to be this ONE source) never ceases to amaze me. Not one Jutland history have I seen which blames the ridiculous intelligence system in place at the time, which falls upon the shoulders of "Blinker" Hall.