“A great part of the information obtained in war is contradictory, a still greater part is false and by far the greatest part is of doubtful character.” – Carl von Clausewitz (Clausewitz, 1908)
“All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know from what you do.” – Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (The Quarterly Review, 1877)
When Napoleon named his brother Joseph as the ruler of Spain he created the impossible alliance; a British, Spanish and Portuguese coalition that turned into a catastrophe for the French. For five years, the war in the Iberian Peninsula sapped the strength, resources and morale of the French soldiers and their officers. The average French conscript saw a posting to Spain as a one-way ticket to hell. Aside from the British regulars under Wellington’s command, Spanish irregulars, known as ‘guerrillas’ fought what they called Guerra a Cuchillo – ‘war to the knife’, a war of brutality, assassination, torture, and revenge. (Crowdy, 2006)
When Wellington landed on the peninsula with 30,000 regulars, he found himself outnumbered and, by all accounts, without even a proper map. He also knew almost nothing about the French forces except that they were more numerous than his forces and were largely undefeated. He was also unsure about his allies, the Portuguese and Spanish, and had no idea what level of support to expect from them. Wellington quickly realized that what he needed was accurate intelligence. With no specialized operational intelligence service, Wellington became his own chief of intelligence.
Those Wellington employed for secret service work were people he personally trusted, an assorted bunch of British officers, Spanish irregulars, and clergymen. Continue reading