Female spies book “ripe for film adaptation”

Shadow Warriors of World War II: The Daring Woman of the OSS and SOE by Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis

A Foreword Review by Michelle Anne Schingler

This is an invaluable historical account, shedding light on the heroism and bravery of the women spies who helped usher the Allied forces toward a victory.

Move over, James Bond—these real life stories of secret agents belong to the ladies. Shadow Warriors of World War II, from Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis, is a thrilling, revelatory history of the women who contributed to the war efforts behind enemy lines as spies on behalf of Britain and America.

William Donovan, inspired by the burgeoning espionage efforts of the United Kingdom, persuaded President Roosevelt to initiate an agency on American soil, dedicated to gathering information and fighting the Nazis covertly. That organization would eventually feed into the CIA—but first, it would employ women for its actions, and to ends that defied expectations.

The stories here are ripe for film adaptation, but first require honor, as America and Britain’s first women spies are shown to have been both invaluable and at risk. Many ended up in concentration camps or at the receiving end of Nazi bullets.

Nancy Wake, who led an attack on a Gestapo HQ in France.

Their ranks included Nancy Wake—brazen, fiery, and skilled with weapons, she was the sort to dodge bullets and retrieve packages from vehicles before they exploded. Betty Pack used her considerable appeal to extract information from men during liaisons, and Virginia Hall posed as a journalist and became one of the agents the Nazis most resented. She escaped, on one leg, over the Pyrenees. These women jumped from planes, blew their covers to help others, and accepted the dangers they faced without blinking.

Thomas and Lewis unfold their stories carefully, preserving their efforts—their successes, their near escapes, and occasionally their betrayals—with detail, resulting in a history that is both thorough and exciting. Distressing conclusions are given their space, and fallen spies are honored, with their extraordinary efforts always taking center stage. While better known personalities also make appearances—even Ian Fleming is here—they are dwarfed by these “shadow warriors” and their daring exploits.

Virginia Hall, the one-legged spy who became the Gestapo’s “Most Wanted”.

This is an invaluable historical account, shedding light on the heroism and bravery of the women spies who helped usher the Allied forces toward a victory.

Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions by Women of the OSS & SOE

shadow-warriors-uk-editionWorld War Two was the war in which old gender rules changed, as intelligence agencies created specific training and roles for women.

SHADOW WARRIORS is the story of women as undercover combatants: armed with Sten guns and grenades; cutting telecommunication wires, laying mines in roadways; organizing bombing raids; preparing the way for the D-Day invasion and harassing enemy forces as the Allies moved inland.

It begins by telling the story of how US and British intelligence agencies decided to use women as spies in a way they never had before; and of how they then recruited and trained them, as couriers, wireless operators, saboteurs and even resistance leaders.

These agents ranged from girls barely out of high school to mature mothers, from working class women to the daughters of aristocrats, from the prim and proper to wild high-livers.

They were taught how to send coded messages; how to lay explosive charges; and how to kill with knives, guns and their bare hands.

Sometimes they faced sexism and even derision from their trainers. Yolande Beekman, an efficient and courageous agent who was executed by the Germans, had been dismissed by one SOE instructor as, “A nice girl, darned the men’s socks, would make an excellent wife for an unimaginative man, but not much more than that.”

Their actions behind enemy lines were to change for ever the views of the US and UK intelligence communities on using women as agents.

Some, such as New Zealander Nancy Wake and Polish-born Christine Granville led men in battle. Granville masterminded the escape of a fellow SOE agent. Nancy led a gun and grenade attack on a Gestapo headquarters in France. American Virginia Hall became the Gestapo’s most wanted agent.

Others, such as the American Betty Pack, used their beauty and sexual allure to capture enemy secrets which would change the course of the war.

All these agents knew that torture and death were the price of failure. Some had to leave babies and children at home. Many paid the ultimate price for their bravery.

As Nancy Wake said: “I hate wars and violence but if they come then I don’t see why we women should just wave a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.”

The clandestine war, and therefore the war itself, would not have been won without the courage and contribution of these Shadow Warriors.

UK edition now available; US edition to be published by Chicago Review Press in January 2017.

 

 

“The best WW2 book I’ve read to date”

Farewell-Leicester-Square1 - Copy

Lovely new message from reader, Phil Dumbelton:

“Hi Jon, I’ve just finished reading Farewell Leicester Square and what a great book it was – the best WW2 book I’ve read to date. Actually it is one of the best books I’ve read to date. I’m so pleased that I found it.

“I really enjoyed the plots around the resistance fighters and found the ending very moving indeed. Please can we have some more? Best wishes, Phil Dumbelton”

Reader feedback means so much to authors. Thanks, Phil! 

Classic paperbacks#7… Navarone revisited…

The Guns of Navarone
      The Guns of Navarone

Could not resist ending on this version of The Guns of Navarone (see also #3).

It made me chuckle.

Great cover. But in the book the raiders don’t climb the cliff on Navarone in German uniform, do they?

And, when they do, there is a storm raging. This German soldier is making the climb in the blazing sunshine.

I wonder if the photo is actually a genuine one from WW2?

Classic paperbacks #4: Where Eagles Dare

Where Eagles Dare
        Where Eagles Dare

The novel version of Alistair MacLean’s Where Eagles Dare is not all that it seems.

It’s a classic thriller made into an explosion-filled, action-packed film.

Well, not quite.

In fact, the book started out as the film.

Producer Elliott Kastner approached MacLean directly and asked him for an original script.

MacLean wrote the script and then the book to coincide with the movie’s release.

Years later, Kastner remember the moment he first approached the author.

“I rang Alistair MacLean at his home in Surrey, and told him that I would really like to meet with him.  He refused; he didn’t wanna meet without my telling him more details.  So I told him:  I wanted him to consider writing an original story, directly for the screen.  There was a moment of silence, followed by ‘Hmm, nobody ever asked me that before…’

“ ‘So’, he said, ‘What is it you want?’  ‘I want a team of five or six guys on a mission in the Second World War, facing enormous obstacles.  I want a mystery.  I want a sweaty, exciting adventure movie.’  That’s all I told him, just that.”

And in the book and film that is exactly what we got!

The heroes of the raid on St Nazaire

Raid on St Nazaire
Raid on St Nazaire

A ceremony has been held to remember the heroes of the raid on St Nazaire.

In March 1942, more than 600 men left Falmouth in Cornwall in a flotilla of three destroyers and 16 smaller boats.

The special fleet included HMS Campbeltown, which was packed with explosives and was used to to ram into the gates of the docks in the French port.

HMS Campbeltown being converted for the raid
HMS Campbeltown being converted for the raid

St Nazaire was targeted because the loss of its dry dock would force any large German warship in need of repairs, such as the Tirpitz, to return to home waters rather than having a safe haven available on the Atlantic coast.

HMS Campbeltown wedged in the dock gates
HMS Campbeltown wedged in the dock gates

The raid put the dry dock out of commission until the end of the war – but success came at a cost. Of the 622 men of the Royal Navy and Commandos who took part in the raid, only 228 men returned to England.

Heroes as prisoners
Heroes as prisoners

One hundred and sixty-nine men were killed and another 215 became prisoners of war. The fallen British raiders were buried at the Escoublac-la-Baule cemetery, near St Nazaire, with military honors.

Commandos under prison escort
Commandos under prison escort

Five of the raiders escaped overland via Spain.

Eighty-nine awards and medals were bestowed for the raid, including five Victoria Crosses.

The organiser of this weekend’s event in Falmouth, Eric Dawkins, stated:  “The destruction of the dock meant those facilities were no longer able to be used. Falmouth played a major part.

“I’ve known these veterans [who took part], including those few who are still remaining, for 30-odd years and know their tales.”