Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare


Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is great fun (  If you admire Winston Churchill, as I do, you will likely enjoy this book.  If you have an interest in exploring offbeat aspects of World War II you will enjoy this book.  If you enjoy history you will enjoy this book.

This is the story of the SOE -- the Special Operations Executive.  This was a bland name for a spicy unit that  took on extraordinary risks in WW2.  Following the fall of France, amidst some of the darkest days of the war, Winston Churchill conceived the SOE.  They would be trained in the dark arts of guerrilla warfare.  They would strike deep behind enemy lines.  They would use cutting edge technology.  And they would take enormous risks to strike back at an Axis that seemed to have a firm grip on the European mainland.  Churchill, frustrated by his inability to win a conventional war, asked them simply to "set Europe ablaze" by unconventional means.   Giles Milton's volume shows us exactly how they responded to Churchill's request.

"Set Europe Ablaze!"

Collin Gubbins was the intrepid head of the SOE.  In August of 1941 he saw off "Operation Postmaster" that set out in a fishing trawler with the Bondian name "Maid Honor" to fence with German U-boats off the coast of West Africa.  This expedition, led by Gus March Phillipps did not sink any U-boats.  Instead March-Phillipps led a daring cutting out expedition with two tugboats that captured an Italian ship (Duchessa d'Aosta) and two German vessels in Spanish-controlled equatorial Guinea in the dead of night.  The Italian captain of the captured ship had been drinking with his German colleagues in the nearby Casino Terrace restaurant.  Gubbins' crew scattered Free French kepis into the waters before they made off in order to muddy the waters.  British diplomatic authorities, concerned about the neutrally of Franco's Spain, lied through their teeth about the raid -- "in no way responsible for what happened prior to the capture of the enemy vessels on the high seas."  Milton neglects to mention that March-Phillipps was sadly killed the following year while leading a commando raid on the coast of occupied France.

This book is full of hair raising tales.  SOE trained agents were responsible for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Czechosloavakia.  Brutal Nazi retribution followed in the wake of this incident.

SOE even managed to persuade the owners and managers of the Peugeot factory in Sochaux France that it would be better for their factories (manufacturing tanks) to be sabotaged rather than bombed from the air.  An earlier air raid on the target had killed around 125 civilians.  In November 1943 Rodolphe Peugeot agreed to have his own factory destroyed!

The SOE (along with the American OSS and French Resistance) played an important role in the widespread sabotage prior to and immediately following the D-Day invasion of June 1944.  These activities slowed German attempts to mount an effective counterattack to the Allied beachhead.  See also the Art of Resistance...

Vilette Szabo
 1921 - 1945

Giles Milton neglects to mention Violet Szabo, an SOE operative, who was killed by the Nazis in 1945.  2021 marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of this amazing and courageous woman.

This book offers another reason to admire Churchill and all of those who fought in defense of Freedom in the World War II.

You can find signed copies of our books at these web sites...


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