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Ian Fleming: Naval Intelligence

At the outbreak of war the intelligence gathering operations were splintered into being controlled by each of the armed forces, with Naval Intelligence the most professional of them; Ian Fleming relished his new role.

The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) – better known as MI6 – had suffered a double blow at the out break of war, with both the death of its head, Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, and the capture of two agents that lead to the compromising of the entire European network. The result was that Naval Intelligence was forced to act outside its remit of providing intelligence at sea.

Fleming threw himself into his work in Room 39 of The Admiralty, occupying the antechamber to the Director of Naval Intelligence, working closely with taskmaster Real Admiral John Godfrey. The team comprised of a mixture of naval men and civilians and the height of the war Room 39 employed 20 staff.

Completely in his element, Fleming helped formulate policies and ideas for Godfrey. He soon became Godfrey’s liaison with the outside world, with his easy manners, charm and contacts all helping to open doors with other services and senior SIS officers.

Quickly promoted to the rank of Commander – he started the war as a Lieutenant – any remaining obstacles due to rank or class were broken down and allowed him access to cabinet ministers when the occasion required. It was the three gold bands on the sleeve of his uniform signifying his rank that inspired Fleming to order three golf rings on his hand made Morland’s cigarettes – exactly the same as James Bond later smoked.

Although the demands on his time were such that he had little time for his personal life, Fleming did continue to see Ann O’Neill and occasionally Murial Wright. He did find time to play bridge though and it was through this that he came into frequent contact with Lord Kemsey, owner of The Sunday Times.

In addition to acting as his liaison, Fleming also represented Godfrey on several interdepartmental committees was well as to take over the function of intelligence planning. Fleming was surprised to find he enjoyed working the long hours required of him and gradually took over more and more responsibilities as part of his daily routine.


For more comprehensive information on the life of Ian Fleming see Andrew Lycett’s excellent biography, available at Amazon.co.uk/Amazon.com.

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