The period before the First World War saw a great deal of military and naval activity. Weapons were developed, enemies were identified, arms races were started, and war plans were hatched. All of the powers that partook in these activities required a regular flow of intelligence about their potential opponents. In Britain's case, the country about which it most needed information was Germany. This was largely supplied by the army and navy's ‘men on the spot’, the military and naval attachés. Owing to the destruction of much of the British defence archive, little is known about their activities. This introductory chapter outlines why these papers were subject to ‘weeding’, as their destruction was called, and explains how it is possible, through an examination of private papers and the records of other government departments, to locate many missing reports and to recreate a picture of what the service attachés reported.
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