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The Mare's NestDavid Irving's famous bestseller: The Mare's Nest

is now available as a Free Download (9MB)
There is also a compressed PDF file of an earlier edition (less than 1 MB in both StuffIt and Zip formats)

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David Irving

David Irving recalls something of the history of this book:

AFTER the successful publication of my book The Destruction of Dresden on April 1, 1963 -- which was accompanied by a serialisation in the then fledgling Sunday Telegraph newspaper -- I learned that the British Air Ministry had subjected my two brothers, both Royal Air Force officers, to critical comment and interview.

To ease their position, I decided to write a book about one of RAF Bomber Command's most successful operations, the August 1943 strike against Hitler's secret rocket plant at Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast. Of the legitimacy of this particular attack there could be no question. I had read Roy Harrod's The Prof, a biography of the late Lord Cherwell (one of the few figures I most hope to meet in the afterlife: a fascinating character in Churchill's entourage), and I asked Nuffield College, at Oxford University, if I could use the Prof.'s papers.

Lord CherwellThe Librarian seemed to have been unfamiliar with their content; he gave me the key to the basement room and steel cupboards, with the memorable words: "We close at five." The cupboards were filled with top secret Cabinet records, Defence Committee minutes, correspondence with Churchill, and Lord Cherwell's own dossiers on TUBE ALLOYS (Britain's wartime Manhattan atomic project) and the infamous Morgenthau Plan.

Fearing at every moment the tread of the horrified archivist's feet on the stairs, I dictated over a quarter of a million words from those top-secret records onto a tape recorder over the next few days. British archives were in those days still in the grip of the Fifty-Year Rule (a rule that I heartily endorsed, provided I could find ways of wangling round it).

Being English of course I at once agreed to the subsequent dictate of the Cabinet Office, the prime minister's secretariat, that I produce my finished manuscript to their censors for scrutiny. The Cabinet Office and Air Ministry in return allowed me limited access to their own records for the book on the then usual, but irksome, condition that I did not directly cite from or identify them, and included a proper disclaimer in the opening pages.

I duly produced the book to them in 1964. Within a very few days the authorities carried out simultaneous raids on my flat and the publishers, William Kimber Ltd., seizing the first chapter, entitled "Enigma" and all supporting working papers.

What had happened was this: In that unlocked Oxford basement I had inevitably stumbled upon clues to the ULTRA secret, and within weeks I had unravelled it, in part by judicious questioning over dinner of Professor R V Jones, the scientific Intelligence chief, who became a good friend (but sternly refused to talk about codebreaking).

A few days after the raid I was hauled before a board meeting in the Cabinet Office, attended by one Geoffrey Evans, security chief of GCHQ at Cheltenham -- I noted down his name as having signed in before me -- and I was urged never to reveal the ULTRA secret. "We take particular exception to any use of that word or the word Enigma," said Evans.

They appealed to me as an English gentleman, with some effect; more compelling was the weight of Evans' statement that I had got the story all wrong (I had not) and would therefore just make myself a laughing stock.

William Kimber Ltd published the book The Mare's Nest in 1965, to great critical acclaim. The Sunday Telegraph again serialised it, as did Der Spiegel in Germany, where the Bertelsmann group published a German edition under the title Die Geheimwaffen des III Reiches, which concentrated more on the technical aspects of the story.

The ULTRA secret remained unrevealed until 1974 when Wing Commander F W Winterbotham was allowed to publish a book of that name (I had introduced him to Kimber's, who published his first book but not this one).

A year or two later, the Cabinet Office phoned me: they had a small bonne bouche for me -- the original, intact, German Army personnel file of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, his 201 file, which British troops had snaffled from under the noses of our great allies in the American occupation zone of Germany.

The authorities knew I was writing his biography. The file contained every document from his father's first tentative letter to the Württemberg artillery regiment, asking if they would have a place for his 12 year old son, to the last letter that Rommel wrote to Adolf Hitler in 1944. Years later, R V Jones told me that this was the government's way of saying thank-you to me for having joined the thousands of others who had kept the ULTRA secret. "They were very nervous," he said, "because you were the only one who had never signed the Official Secrets Act."

When Panther Books (Granada) published a new updated edition in the UK in 1985 I included the missing Enigma chapter, and it will also be found in this Internet edition. "Enjoy," as the illiterate Americans would say.

First posted: Saturday, January 5, 2002; illustrated new text uploaded Monday, March 29, 2010


R V Jones reminisces on how David Irving once missed a scoop


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