Not Just Ultra: Bletchley Park and RAF Signals Intelligence during the Second World War

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Not Just Ultra: Bletchley Park and RAF Signals Intelligence during the Second World War

By RAF Museum

At 12.30pm on Friday 15 September, Dr Thomas Cheetham will explore Bletchley Park and RAF signals intelligence in the Second World War. This lecture will be hosted in-person at the RAF Museum's Midlands site and live-streamed via Crowdcast.

This free lecture is part of the RAF Museum's Research Lecture Programme. If you'd like to support the RAF Museum, you can make a donation at:

Talk Outline
The popular understanding of intelligence work in the Second World War is dominated by Bletchley Park’s exploitation of high-grade ciphers, most famously the German Enigma machine, and the resulting intelligence, codenamed Ultra. However, this has overshadowed other important lines of work at the codebreaking agency, notably those relating to the air war. While Ultra provided invaluable intelligence to the RAF, so did analysis of low-grade air codes and operational voice communications, which underpinned order of battle estimates, targeting, operational research and frequently decision-making. The feats of analysis and organisation required to turn such unpromising raw material into valuable, responsive intelligence were every bit as impressive as those behind Ultra. These achievements have gone largely unrecognised by historians of wartime air intelligence, who place far greater emphasis on photoreconnaissance.
Achieving a more rounded picture of air signals intelligence also brings into question the characterisation of Bletchley Park as the sole focus of signals intelligence work. Air intelligence was as much of a driver of air signals intelligence, via its own signals interception service, as Bletchley Park itself. The teams at Bletchley Park working on enemy air force communications were part of a wider system of RAF signals intelligence which was central to both its defence of Great Britain and its ability to project airpower across Europe.

About Dr Thomas Cheetham
Dr Thomas Cheetham has been Research Officer at the Bletchley Park Trust since 2018. He has published on the organisation and resourcing of Bletchley Park. His PhD examined the use of oral accounts in military history via an analysis of interviews with British Army veterans of the Second World War.

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