Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Man Called Intrepid

This fascinating book describes the birth and early years of Allied secret operations during World War 2.  The narrative centers around one man, William Stephenson (or INTREPID if you prefer his codename), a Canadian man of many (and considerable) talents who held the ear of both Churchill and Roosevelt.  Stephenson had an amazing ability to apply his substantial intellect to the merger of science and business during peacetime. When it became apparent during the 1930s that war would soon come to Britain, he transitioned his efforts away from business to preparing covert operations for the Allies.  His many contacts and relationships from around the world were a perfect cover for the people, products necessary for such an undertaking.

All sorts of capers against the backdrop of WW2 are recounted in A Man Called Intrepid.  There was the plot to destroy the Nazi-controlled Norsk Hydro plant in Norway to cut off Germany's supply of heavy water that might be used to develop atomic weapons.  There was the tale of the huge intelligence apparatus set up in Bermuda to monitor all incoming mail ships for the presence of Nazi correspondence (such as film microdots hidden in the periods of sentences!).  There was the story of the "famed Hungarian astrologer" who toured the world predicting Hitler's doom but was actually a hired hand of the BSC and OSS.  Documents were forged on typewriters that were constructed to have flaws identical to those seen in stolen papers originating from particular Nazi offices.  The list goes on and on...

I was struck by how every detail of an operation was meticulously carried out, down to "collecting" (voluntarily or otherwise) authentic European clothing and personal articles from overseas travelers entering America for use by agents working undercover.

The book does an excellent job recounting the political feeling in the United States in the years leading up to our entry in the war.  For instance, I had no idea that Roosevelt was forced to walk such a fine line in America with regards to his policy toward aid to Britain.  He was constantly under assault from isolationists as a war monger and even had to put up with pro-Nazi elements in the US government (note that the majority of these people did not support Nazi policies per se but were deluding themselves as to the scope of Hitler's plan).

Overall, an extremely interesting book that tells many of the stories not found in histories of conventional warfare.  I recommend it!

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