Major Royall Tyler and Military Intelligence during the Great War
By Noah J. Delwiche
The extant correspondence between the Blisses and the Tylers spans a period of over five decades and documents their industrious careers, art collections, and lives. Taken in context, however, the gaps in the personal letters, sometimes of over three years, reflect the tumultuous world in which the two families were living. Most notably, the Bliss Papers reveal no preserved communications from Royall Tyler to Robert Woods Bliss or Mildred Barnes Bliss between 1917 and 1921. When Tyler joined the armed forces as an intelligence officer in 1917, we can imagine art collecting was not among his most pressing priorities. The United States had just recently entered the Great War and the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe quickly got to work assisting the allied forces in France.
Tyler eventually rose to the rank of major in the G-2 intelligence section of an allied unit and played a critical role as a financial adviser in postwar Europe. But his climb is not so well documented. In fact, Tyler describes very little of his intelligence work in later letters to Robert Woods Bliss, who served as counselor of the U.S. embassy in Paris and as a diplomat to the Netherlands during the war. Nor do Mildred Barnes Bliss or Elisina Tyler, who joined the wartime efforts themselves by assisting Edith Wharton in running private charities, mention Royall Tyler’s military work at detail.See Brussels, Buenos Aires, and Paris (1909–1919): An Introduction. Beyond brief statements in a couple of letters from Elisina to Mildred Bliss,Elisina Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, April 16, 1917, and Elisina Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, July 21, 1917. little has been published about Tyler’s military career.
The following essay aims to fill that void. By presenting recently catalogued military documents and correspondence between Royall Tyler and his superiors in light of the context surrounding early American military intelligence, the following essay utilizes unpublished primary sources to examine Tyler’s service. As part of the broader goal of Bliss-Tyler Correspondence, this supplement will add to the cross-disciplinary value of the digitized archives while also commemorating the centennial of World War I.
Royall Tyler joined a fledgling U.S. intelligence operation in 1917. When the nation entered World War I, the army’s intelligence unit was just a little over three decades old. And while intelligence operations had been utilized on a largely ad hoc basis in previous engagements, a systematized information network had yet to be implemented on a grand scale.
As one colonel would later describe:
Before America entered the World War, the Military Intelligence Service, as a coordinated and cooperating system, did not exist in our military establishment . . . . There was no conception of the modern Intelligence Service which, with specially trained personnel, would make systematic and continuous effort to find out and record the strength, position, situation, and movements of the enemy.James P. Finley, U.S. Army Military Intelligence History: A Sourcebook (Fort Huachuca, Ariz: U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School, 1995), Col. Sweeney as cited, 84.
The path to a modernized intelligence system began just before the turn of the twentieth century. In 1885, after much pressuring by Ralph Henry Van Deman, now widely viewed as the father of American military intelligence, the army formed the Military Information Division (MID). Tasked broadly with reporting salient information to the Miscellaneous Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office, the MID remained relatively insignificant in its nascent years. With an annual budget of less than $4,000The inflation adjusted equivalent of about $100,000, compared to the approximately $18.6 billion allocated for all U.S. military intelligence spending in the 2013 fiscal year (see http://www.minneapolisfed.org/community_education/teacher/calc/hist1800.cfm and http://fas.org/irp/budget/index.html) and a small staff, the MID was often “little more than a paper organization.”The Evolution of American Military Intelligence (Fort Huachuca, Ariz: Army Intelligence Center and School, 1973), 10-11.
By 1917, however, a more permanent fixture was established and named the Military Intelligence (MI) branch. The new division incorporated into its structure many components, both in name and organization, of an already sophisticated British system.The Evolution of American Military Intelligence (Fort Huachuca, Ariz: Army Intelligence Center and School, 1973), 18. Perhaps most noticeably, the U.S. army first began to refer to such operations as intelligence rather than information, a change that seems to have stuck. More substantively, the MI branch, much like the British operation, was divided into two subcomponents: positive intelligence and negative intelligence. Whereas positive intelligence pertained to the gathering of information about the enemy, the goal of negative intelligence was to inhibit the enemy’s own ability to collect information on their opponent.The Evolution of American Military Intelligence (Fort Huachuca, Ariz: Army Intelligence Center and School, 1973), 20-21. Individual MI branches were further subdivided, with each numbered 1-13, to perform specific tasks, such as map development, encrypting and decrypting messages, and counterespionage missions.
The AEF, G-2 and Interallied Bureau
The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) refer to the United States troops deployed in Europe to assist the allied forces during World War I. Tyler, like many of his American counterparts, traveled to Paris at the start of the war to be trained in the G-2 intelligence section of the army.
Similar to the recently established MI branch back on the American front, the United States’ G-2 section looked to already developed European intelligence systems for guidance. As was the case with the MI branch, the G-2 section was subdivided into positive and negative groups; the numbering system was, however, replaced with letters. Tyler, though not directly a part of America’s unit, was in constant communication with America’s G-2A unit, which had among many other goals, the responsibility of surveying battle intelligence, leading translation of reports, and intercepting radio transmissions.The Evolution of American Military Intelligence (Fort Huachuca, Ariz: Army Intelligence Center and School, 1973), 23.
Here, as a first lieutenant between 1917 and 1918, Tyler engaged in correspondences with many prominent U.S. intelligence officers who would eventually create and organize an advanced operation. Relaying daily reports to the Intelligence headquarters and communicating with Colonel Dennis E. Nolan, the leader of the G-2 section, Tyler discussed, among other topics, reports of bombings on Paris, employment decisions, and day-to-day operations.
Beginning in mid-1918, Tyler began collaborating with other allied intelligence divisions, including the G-2 section of France’s army. Tyler soon headed the American Mission of what would be named the Inter-Allied Bureau (B.I.), a conglomeration of allied intelligence networks. Given his language proficiency and budding diplomatic career, some described him as “a perfect fit for the assignment.”James L. Gilbert, World War I and the Origins of U.S. Military Intelligence (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2012), 108. Gilbert’s original text retains an error in referring to Major Royall Tyler as Major Royall Taylor. Tyler is, in fact, the officer he describes. In addition to exchanging information on economic matters, Tyler’s unit assisted in counter intelligence efforts by providing names of suspected spies and their practices.James L. Gilbert, World War I and the Origins of U.S. Military Intelligence (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2012), 108.
Despite the steady flow of information between the B.I. and G-2A, military historian and retired Colonel Bruce W. Bidwell argues “there is no evidence that the departmental military intelligence agency ever received any helpful information from [Tyler’s] group, either directly or indirectly through the American Military Attache in Paris.”Bruce W. Bidwell, History of the Military Intelligence Division, Department of the Army General Staff, 1775–1941 (Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1986), 139. Even so, the sophistication and success of the AEF’s intelligence unit must not be understated. Under Nolan and various officers—Tyler ultimately among them—the AEF “had gone beyond anything the army had ever envisioned for military intelligence, and it had certainly left Washington and the War Department in the dust.”James J. Cooke, Pershing and His Generals: Command and Staff in the AEF (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997), 102.
Performing the Ordinary
The majority of Royall Tyler’s military records on file at the National Archives come in the form of daily reports, which were conveyed to the headquarters of the Intelligence Section in Paris. Such reports provided outlines of enclosed documents on maps, press reports, and enemy positions. Tyler, whose signature features prominently on many of the documents, also included brief notes to relay rumors about attacks, discuss possible candidates for employment, and make requests for provisions. Sent on thin “ ” paper, the correspondences had to be quickly received by top intelligence officials. So critical were the transmissions that Tyler wrote to the chief of the American intelligence section in 1918 that a delay of even a few days stymied knowledge of “important matters . . . in a quite unjustifiable fashion.”Lieutenant Royall Tyler to the Chief of the Intelligence Section, February 21, 1918
Like many intelligence officers at the time, Tyler scrambled with Colonel Dennis E. Nolan and his superiors to find recruits proficient in French and German. Translating radio transmissions, reports, and interviews was of utmost importance to the G-2 and with little time to recruit, Nolan needed to fill staff quickly. The US. army purchased ads in local papersJames P. Finley, U.S. Army Military Intelligence History: A Sourcebook (Fort Huachuca, Ariz: U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School, 1995) 125 (John P. Finnegan as cited). and Tyler, proficient in French, Spanish, and German, frequently relayed evaluations of candidates to Nolan. In one such letter, Tyler suggests that the need for officers may cause the army to hire more unqualified officers.
While at La Havre, I received a telephone message from Lieutenant Simmons telling me that it was desire that I should choose 12 men instead of 10, but without greatly lowering the standard, I should not do so. Among the 17 other men who appeared to me good enough to fill out a question sheet, there are 3 or 4 who might be good for liaison work, but emphatically none of whom I would recommend for intelligence.October 8, 1917, Correspondence of Captain Royall Tyler, Chief of the American Mission, 1918–1919, NM-91 253, National Archives at College Park, Md.,
In other letters, Tyler, upon reviewing qualified candidates, must summarily dispatch them to G-2A headquarters to begin work.November 15, 1917, Correspondence of Captain Royall Tyler, Chief of the American Mission, 1918–1919, NM-91 253, National Archives at College Park, Md. Such was the pace of organization in America’s developing intelligence field—quick, thorough, and technical. Specific instructions were referred to Tyler about his duties for transmitting intelligence to Colonel Nolan and the American G-2 headquarters. First, Tyler received decoded telegram messages, which he then parsed for critical information. Notwithstanding immediate action, Tyler relayed the message through the routine courier system, and ordered another lieutenant to mention its upcoming delivery in a daily telephone call with the G-2A. Otherwise, Tyler was expected to deliver messages of key importance through a special and expedited delivery system. , October 1, 1917 In totality, the sum of extant military records reveal the more mundane, daily obligations that Tyler completed beginning in 1917. Beyond assisting in the recruitment process, Tyler sent requests for newspapers, provisions, and services. In one, Tyler explains the need for a car to be able to adequately complete his day to day operations. At certain points, Tyler takes to criticizing the living arrangements of his staff and demands that they not be worsened. When Tyler learns of plans, for instance, that the Interallied Bureau wished to relocate to a new building, he follows the inspectors to the residence and brashly describes the squalid two rooms to which the American mission was to be assigned. Penning the spaces “entirely insufficient,” Tyler concludes “we cannot work in these rooms” and requests prompt action.Colonel Dennis E. Nolan to Lieutenant Royall Tyler, November 15, 1917, Correspondence of Captain Royall Tyler, Chief of the American Mission, 1918–1919, NM-91 253, National Archives at College Park, Md. Although is unclear to what extent Col. Nolan heeded Tyler’s recommendation, an addressed letter in 1919 suggests the Interallied Bureau had indeed relocated to the building housing the spaces which Tyler had described.January 15, 1919
Economic and War Reports
Beyond the routine communications, also transmitted through Tyler’s office were reports on attacks, possible spies, public opinion, and economic reports on the enemy. The situation in Europe was hardly peaceful, and many intelligence records reveal how the allied forces sought to assess and prevent the danger. In a report of March 22, 1918, intelligence advisers explain, for instance, that they had obtained information of a possible German attack from a deserter. An intercepted map pinpointed the specific position which the Germans had sought to target, but because of the English offensive, the allies were able to thwart the offensive. of Even so, on the very next day, the Germans launched an aerial bombardment on Paris, dropping 21 shells, killing 10 and seriously injuring 15., March 23, 1918, Correspondence of Captain Royall Tyler, Chief of the American Mission, 1918–1919, NM-91 253, National Archives at College Park, Md. of March 23 1918 The deaths added to the 39 killed and 50 wounded in Paris less than two weeks earlier. A memorandum passed through Tyler’s office described the frantic scene:
At the height of the bombardment, the guns stopped firing as the enemy was directly over Paris and one could hear the whirring of his motors above the fog bank and the rush of the bombs. . . . One exploded in the street and broke most of the glass in the windows. . . . A very serious accident occurred at the metro station, where a panic occurred among the people running into the subway for protection from the raid., March 12, 1918, Correspondence of Captain Royall Tyler, Chief of the American Mission, 1918–1919, NM-91 253, National Archives at College Park, Md. , of the night of March 11th to the 12th
With American troops stationed throughout Europe, reports on changes to AEF formations were similarly received by Tyler’s office. The B.I. also detailed close knowledge of dozens of German and Austrian ships interred in Spain and specific enemy positions.Note enclosed in a of October 11, 1917, Correspondence of Captain Royall Tyler, Chief of the American Mission, 1918–1919, NM-91 253, National Archives at College Park, Md. When and before the enemy attacked, the allied forces paid careful attention. Economic reports on various topics such as German exports, commerce, and fertilizers, which also served as ingredients for explosives and were being revolutionized at the time through a new refining process, circulated from the B.I. to the AEF.List of reports on economic subjects received from the section economique
The U.S. intelligence section and B.I. did not only take note of enemy soldiers. By surveying articles and controlling the flow of information to the press, the allied forces sought to both gauge war fervor and temper public sentiment. At the onset of the American entry into the war, a translation of a journal article transmitted through Tyler’s staff described the grim situation by making specific reference to prior plights of Napoleon:
Napoleon’s Victories were not received by the France with transports of joy and enthusiasm. The people . . . shook their heads and asked for peace. The heroic period only came later. Germany is now in the same situation and the average German, when he reads of victories, asks himself whether peace is nearer, is obliged to reply: “No”.
Peace by victory is no longer possible for Germany, and no German believes in it any longer.Translation of an Article in the Journal de Genève, Nov. 1st, 1917: , Correspondence of Captain Royall Tyler, Chief of the American Mission, 1918–1919, NM-91 253, National Archives at College Park, Md.
Frequent analysis of press reports indeed allowed the American forces to analyze war opinion abroad, but archived personal letters from friends of officers also provide a glimpse into how Americans viewed the deadly war. Just months before the international conflict ended, a friend of Captain Conway wrote to describe the death of a friend. In the letter, however, he expressed frustration with the timeline of the war and desire for a speedy end. Anti-German idealism laced his analysis:
I hope from the bottom of my heart that when you receive this letter you will have those Germans way way back where they belong. . . . I hope that they fall into a trap where they will be exterminated. It seems that extermination is the only remedy that can be applied to them. . . . We all feel that we can win. In fact, there can be no other solution to it.E. F. Sanguinetti to Captain Conway, May 30, 1918, General Correspondence, 1918–1919, NM-91 252, National Archives at College Park, Md.
In a fortunate turn for the sender’s wishes, combat in the Great War would conclude just a few months later. The mess, however, was far from finished, nor was Tyler’s service. When the Paris Peace Conference commenced in 1919, Tyler was already assisting as part of the U.S. delegation.See Brussels, Buenos Aires, and Paris (1909–1919): An Introduction. For the next several years, Tyler served as a diplomat and oversaw loans of post-war reparations as a member of an international committee.See Washington, D.C., and Stockholm (1920–1927): An Introduction.
Outside of his interest in Byzantine art and its history, Tyler’s involvement in World War I propelled his diplomatic career. During these formative years as an intelligence officer, he cultivated relationships with top officers, one of whom, Hayford Peirce, would later work closely with him to develop the Dumbarton Oaks collection.
Noah Delwiche, the author of this article, worked in the Dumbarton Oaks Publications Department for 10 weeks as part of the Summer 2014 internship program. He is currently a Sophomore at Harvard College, pursuing a degree in Philosophy.