Bradley F Smith: Military and intelligence historian


Wednesday 12 September 2012 22:05
Part of Smith's genius was to find revealing documents in public archives
Part of Smith's genius was to find revealing documents in public archives

Bradley F Smith was a ground-breaking historian of the Second World War and intelligence. He was born in Seattle, in 1931; nothing about his early life was very conventional. Flunking out of formal education, he joined the air force; he stuck to his father's advice never to stand in the front rank, because that was from where "volunteers" were chosen.

After four years' service he went to Berkeley to study history and then on a Fulbright scholarship to Munich, where he honed his skills in German documentary sources. On his return he taught at the Community College of Cabrillo, California, and in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was a civil rights activist.

In the 1970s he began to write the books which would make his name as a scholar. The journal Foreign Affairs welcomed Reaching Judgment at Nuremberg (1977) as "a superbly written and novelesque account, which is also a sound work of historical scholarship". The Shadow Warriors: OSS and the Origins of the CIA (1983) was, like all his books, meticulously researched, and it remains the best general account of the Office of Strategic Services, the US's Second World War intelligence agency.

Part of Smith's genius, long before the widespread release of intelligence-related material, was to find revealing documents in public archives, and among his favourite places was the UK National Archives at Kew. His success in plundering that repository of documentary riches was exemplified in Sharing Secrets with Stalin: How the Allies Traded Intelligence 1941–45 (1996), which did an extraordinary job in uncovering a story that changed our assessment of the achievements and the failures of that improbable wartime alliance. Above all, however, was his extraordinary generosity in cheerfully sharing his own research with younger scholars, to whom he was invariably encouraging and helpful.

Bradley married twice. With his first wife he had two children. In 1982 he married Jenny Wilkes, who helped care for him after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in the mid-1990s. He died on 10 July 2012.

Keith Jeffery

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