Intelligence, whether or not you’re Martha Stewart, is a good thing. It’s always helpful to know stuff. I know that here in America, we drive on the right side of the road. And since I’m old enough to drive, that turns out to be a pretty useful fact that I can put into action every day. And gravity. Years ago when I visited the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the whole gravity thing was a nice little chestnut to have locked away in my brain. Without that knowledge, three more steps north would have left the bus 165 pounds lighter on the return trip.
But some things I know are pretty much worthless. Take the speed of light in a vacuum as an example. Without even looking it up, I know it’s 186,282.397 miles per second…and I’ve known that since junior high. But big whoop!! What possible good does that do me? It’s never helped me in a job interview. I don’t think it’s ever been an answer on Jeopardy. It’s not even a good conversation starter at parties.
However, let’s say we were the Allied High Command in 1944…June of 1944. And on the 6th of that month, we had launched a massive invasion of Western Europe called, I don’t know, Operation Overlord or something. And then four days later, ULTRA (the name we gave our codebreaking methods) revealed the location of the headquarters of Panzer Gruppe West, the primary reinforcements to be used by Germany to attack the men we were sending ashore at Normandy.
That knowledge might prove to be most useful.
And it was. General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg (commander of Panzer Gruppe West) had set up his headquarters in the Chateau at La Caine (about 20 miles south of the Normandy coast). Allied intelligence got wind of it and passed the information on to the commanders. And they, knowing the importance of Schweppenburg’s forces, wasted no time in dealing with it.
Immediately (which in this case meant June 10, 1944), air assets were dispatched. Forty Hawker Typhoons and sixty-one B-25 Mitchells attacked the chateau, wounding von Schweppenburg and killing 17 of his staff. Panzer Gruppe West HQ was out of commission. But, more importantly, communications between the HQ and the actual fighting men (and tanks) had been lost. And as Allied tank forces were beginning their inital breakouts from Normandy on that very day, it offered them some additional freedom of movement.
Recommended Reading: Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy