At the outbreak of war, Ian Fleming was commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander RNVR in the Naval Intelligence Division. He entered the now famous Room 39 in the Admiralty as Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral John Godfrey.
Fleming worked tirelessly throughout the war and was involved with the work of every section of naval intelligence. As one of the key members of NID 17, he played a pivotal role in coordinating special intelligence to ensure the smooth running of the British and Allied war machine.
Fleming’s energetic personality and imagination and keen organisational skills were valuable attributes. He attended countless committees where he contributed to the work of the Political Warfare Executive, Joint Intelligence Committee, Special Operations Executive and Secret Intelligence Service. Fleming’s distinctive literary style can be recognised in the daily situation reports and regular draft memos he wrote. He is also credited with building a strong list of civilian contacts outside Whitehall on which the Intelligence machine came to rely. It is now known that he liaised between the Admiralty and Bletchley Park, the top secret codebreaking institution in Buckinghamshire.
Fleming’s war work took him on official trips overseas. In 1941 and 1942 he and Godfrey made confidential missions to the US to report back on US intelligence organisations and to coordinate them with those in the UK. Their work with William Stephenson, the legendary ‘Intrepid’, and ‘Wild’ Bill Donovan contributed to the establishment of the office that was to go on to become the CIA.
Fleming’s work also took him to France, Spain and North Africa, where he visited British embassies and nurtured Operation Golden Eye – a plan to provide for the defence of Gibraltar should the Germans try to invade through Spain. He also travelled as a representative of NID to Ceylon, Jamaica and Australia and to conferences in Cairo and Tehran.
In 1942, inspired by German intelligence commandos, Fleming began to shape the 30 Assault Unit, a detachment of intelligence personnel whose work was to accompany troops on raids with the purpose of obtaining intelligence, such as cyphers, and weapons. The unit grew from a strength of about 60 in 1942 to nearer 450 by the end of the war.
Patrick Beesly, an NID colleague of Fleming, wrote in his biography of Admiral Godfrey, ‘Those of us who saw Ian at close quarters during the war are agreed that he made a very great contribution indeed to NID’s success.’ Admiral Godfrey himself said: ‘Ian should have been DNI and I his naval adviser’.
It is unquestionably true that so much of what Ian saw and learnt in his role at the NID found its way into James Bond adventures. Admiral Godfrey is generally considered to be the inspiration for M.
There was a creak from M’s chair and Bond looked across the table at the man who held a great deal of his affection and all his loyalty and obedience.
Diamonds Are Forever, 1956
Ian himself said, ‘I could not have had a more interesting time.’ However, like everyone else involved in intelligence, he had signed the Official Secrets Act, and he never spoke openly about his wartime work.In 1942, he attended a U boat conference in Jamaica, and although it rained heavily while he was there, he fell in love with the country and promised to return after the war and build himself a house.