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Throughout the Battle of the Atlantic and other British naval operations and engagements during the Second World War, thousands of women worked behind the scenes to collect, analyse and disseminate intelligence. This paper focuses on the contribution of the WRNS to Royal Navy intelligence and communications. It seeks to reframe women’s military contributions to this war within the larger development of modern twentieth century warfare, specifically the centrality of information and communication systems to success on the battlefield. In addition to evaluating the exact nature and effects of WRNS’ contributions, this paper aims to examine their intelligence work in relation to the development of the modern ‘kill-chain’, and in doing so, to re-evaluate the ‘combat taboo’. The WRNS and the WAVES were an active part of the kill-chain and add an important dimension to the combat taboo, and this examination of their work in communications and intelligence will reconceptualise their work in the Second World War, demonstrating that they were at the cutting edge of the emergence of modern warfare.


Sarah is a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford. She completed her PhD in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London in May 2022. Her thesis covered the women of the Royal and US Navies in naval intelligence behind the Battle of the Atlantic and the Pacific Naval War. She is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, where she is researching women in war in the Pacific and Polynesian Islands for her book, Hawaii’s Women at War. She regularly appears on television as a historical consultant on the Second World War, and her book, The Women Behind the Few, is due for release on 16 March 2023.

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This King's Maritime History Seminar will be held online and in-person. For those joining online, the Zoom link will be sent by email two days before the event.

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Alan James

Reader in International History