Historical Non-Fiction Book of the Month: Britannia and the Bear


This book was one of the most pleasant surprises I have had in a while. I won this book and another entitled God and Uncle Sam: Religion and America’s Armed Forces in World War II, (which I will be reviewing this summer) in a contest I had forgot I had even entered!

Being a History nut, I subscribe and follow quite a few Online History Magazines, one of them being the British oriented Military History Monthly. By the way, the competitions or giveaways are open to the public, you do not have to be a subscriber to enter. Just look near the top right hand side for the tab titled COMPETITIONS. Sometimes it is a “caption” contest, where they show you a history picture and challenge you to write a funny caption, other times it is simply a prize giveaway like it was in my case.

This book is a literal GOLD MINE for the serious Intelligence buff. It covers a period of time in history that has been ignored and/or forgotten by writers and historians mostly because of the tremendous overshadow cast by the Cold War. Also, a defining characteristic of most Cold War literature was the battle between the KGB and CIA. Britannia and the Bear focuses on a period of time in the early part of the 20th Century when the new-born Soviet Union and it’s fledgling foreign intel apparatus (INO) focused all of it’s energy almost exclusively on Great Britain.

The book goes into great detail on the History of both MI6 (Foreign Intelligence or SIS) and MI5 (Domestic Security Service) during the 12 years discussed (1917 to 1929). At the beginning of the book is a very thorough breakdown of the Heads of Agency of both branches to include the Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard). Also included is an outstanding Abbreviation and Glossary sections to help guide you through the dizzying array of 3 and 4 letter Acronyms often associated with British and Soviet Government Agencies and Intelligence work in general.

In closing, the one thing that stuck out to me about this book without giving too much away, is the amount of penetration that actually occurred by the Soviets into all areas of British culture. You see, one of the things that makes this book so incredible is that the Soviets during this time in history were not so much trying to STEAL military and state secrets (as they were during the Cold War) as much as they were trying to foment REVOLUTION and subvert British culture into a Communist state. The Soviets penetration into such places as the Metropolitan Police, Large Labor Unions and one of their biggest targets, Large, well established British Universities is well documented. It is because of these penetrations into Universities to include Cambridge, that the the Cambridge Spy Ring (or Cambridge Four as they would come to be known) to include Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt would become some of the most notorious (and worst) traitors in British Intelligence History. As a interesting sidenote,  a very rare recording of Kim Philby speaking to a group of East German Stasi in 1981 has been found and released on BBC. It is definitely worth a listen.

Whether you are a student of Intelligence History or just like a good TRUE spy yarn, I highly recommend this book!

Stay Alert, Stay Armed and Stay Dangerous!