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Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly…
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Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted… (2016)

by Giles Milton

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213782,988 (4.24)15
  1. 00
    The Second Oldest Profession: Spies and Spying in the Twentieth Century by Phillip Knightley (nessreader)
    nessreader: There's a lot about SOE in Knightley's book, though he is less enthusiastic about the organisation and sceptical about its usefulness - interesting as a contrasting point of view. (Knightley generally seems to despise spies, in his entire book of 20th century spycraft)… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Excellent. There are several agents and capers I plan to research in more depth. Need a cheat card of the cast of characters. It's almost too complex for audio. ( )
  2wonderY | Dec 19, 2018 |
I am going to remember this book for a long time, which is unusual because it's non-fiction about British specials ops and sabotage during WWII. It reads like fiction in that the characters are unusual rogues who fill special roles throughout the war, inventing weapons, carrying out operations, and spying on enemies. Shortly after reading this, I read "Transcription" by Kate Atkinson and was struck by the similarity in the personalities of the characters and the audacity with which they carried out their assignments. ( )
  terran | Nov 19, 2018 |
While the official narrative of World War II has it that the plucky Allies were able to best the Axis forces on the battlefield, according to "The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare", the war was won by the Brits fighting dirty.

Milton recounts tales of British saboteurs successfully damaging a wide array of Nazi infrastructure, to the point that I wanted to hear about a guerilla action going pear shaped. None were covered (although surely something went balls up along the way), leaving "The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare" sounding very much like a hagiography. Still, the tales of derring-do are entertaining enough to make this a pleasant read. ( )
1 vote MiaCulpa | Oct 16, 2018 |
The story of a special projects bureau, operated by some very British characters (despite the objections of military officers who thought that guerrilla tactics were Not Done) and protected by Churchill. Women and men both played significant roles; one woman, Joan Bright, was supposedly the inspiration for Miss Moneypenny.

It takes a while to get going—the book and the bureau both—but there are some fascinating stories. I didn’t know that blowing up pylons should be done by planting charges under 3 of 4 corners, so it tips over instead of just going down. They also invented new bombs and new timers, which were made with Alka Seltzer because they could be trusted to dissolve with perfect regularity. There was a raid on a Spanish harbor that stole three ships out from under their captains’ noses—but it was nearly derailed by the fact that they didn’t correct for time zones, which somehow makes the story better. A later, better raid destroyed a key sub harbor—it involved ramming a boat packed with explosives into the dock—while another cut Rommel’s supply lines for six weeks by destroying a remote bridge in Italy. They delayed the arrival of a key division to Normandy by sabotaging the flatcars that were to take the tanks to the front (tanks being too slow, gas-guzzling, and heavy to make it on their own) by replacing the axle oil on the transports with axle grease laced with abrasive. With this and other traps, a 72-hour journey took seventeen days, and the Allied beachhead was secure.

They made bombs that could be attached to German planes on the ground, but which would only explode at a certain height when the pressure changed enough to force two wires to connect and detonate. They developed shaped charges that could punch through the strongest German tanks and concrete pillboxes, as required for D-Day—and inspired a solution to the problem of detonating the first nuclear bombs through implosion. They made sub-killing bomb groups called the Hedgehog, which sank six subs in a row—“a record unbeaten in the history of naval warfare.” The largest triumph was the destruction first of the only significant source of heavy water for the Germans, in Norway, and then of the remaining stockpile, both with brilliant and gutsy raids. The first was carried out after an initial failure, which had increased security, but the commandos scaled a sheer rock gorge that the Germans thought was impassible.

I also liked the emphasis on training—if you want to do something right, train to do it in as realistic a manner as possible; that’s why they built mock facilities based on plans smuggled out of Norway at great risk. Similarly, later saboteurs trained on models of the Peugeot machines they intended to sabotage to shut down the German production of aircraft parts in France—which they did by convincing Rodolphe Peugeot to assist them by telling him that his factory would either be destroyed by sabotage or by large-scale bombing, and that sabotage would be easier to rebuild from after the war ended. That story also has its funny/scary moments, as when the German guards were kicking a football around and demanded that the saboteurs, dressed as ordinary workers, have a German/French match. One of the saboteurs kicked the ball and a limpet mine fell out of his pocket. A German guard handed it back to him—and the game continued. Later, the same group sabotaged the new compressor that had just been delivered to replace the one destroyed in the first attack. ( )
2 vote rivkat | Dec 13, 2017 |
A stirring account of Allied special operations during WW2 and the characters behind them, plus their crucial special equipment and designers and workshops which produced it. ( )
  ManipledMutineer | Jun 13, 2017 |
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For Simon, ever the gentleman.
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Cecil Clarke viewed his caravan with the sort of affection that most men reserve for their wives.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"Six gentlemen, one goal: the destruction of Hitler's war machine. In the spring of 1939, a top-secret organization was founded in London: its purpose was to plot the destruction of Hitler's war machine through spectacular acts of sabotage. The guerrilla campaign that followed was every bit as extraordinary as the six men who directed it. One of them, Cecil Clarke, was a maverick engineer who had spent the 1930s inventing futuristic caravans. Now, his talents were put to more devious use: he built the dirty bomb used to assassinate Hitler's favorite, Reinhard Heydrich. Another, William Fairbairn, was a portly pensioner with an unusual passion: he was the world's leading expert in silent killing, hired to train the guerrillas being parachuted behind enemy lines. Led by dapper Scotsman Colin Gubbins, these men--along with three others--formed a secret inner circle that, aided by a group of formidable ladies, single-handedly changed the course Second World War: a cohort hand-picked by Winston Churchill, whom he called his Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a gripping and vivid narrative of adventure and derring-do that is also, perhaps, the last great untold story of the Second World War"--… (more)

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