Sabotage & Subversion: Stories from the Files of the SOE and OSS, by Ian Dear, Arms and Armour Press, London, 1996, $29.95.
This book is a welcome addition to the literature on sabotage and subversion in World War II, because it goes into more of the nuts and bolts that were necessary to make those operations work. Accounts of combat actions are not slighted, and there is plenty here for those who like a lot of fireworks. The author has drawn upon recently declassified archives for much of his research, which gives the book its solid ring of authenticity.
England’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) was formed on orders from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1940 and was given the mission to “set Europe ablaze.” The OSS, of course, was the United States’ Office of Strategic Services, and author Ian Dear has generously chosen to include some of the feats of both organizations in the same book.
After giving a very helpful primer on the organizations–what they were, how they were organized, and how they recruited and trained their personnel–Dear launches into narratives of their operations all over the world. An interesting aspect of the SOE is that not all its operations were devoted exclusively to death, destruction and mayhem. There can be a light side to subversion. This facet of covert operations is illustrated by the SOE’s success in obtaining ball bearings–sorely needed by British industry for its armaments factories–from Sweden under the watchful eyes of German diplomatic, intelligence and military agencies. Another SOE nonviolent coup was engineered in the China-Burma-India theater through black-market trading and counterfeiting that resulted in substantial net financial gains to the British government. This book is entertaining, well-written and very informative.
John I. Witmer