Book: Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat

Author: Giles Milton

Reviewer:  Christopher N. Smith, Attorney at Law & Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of Denmark.

Christopher N. Smith

“Operation Postmaster” is a little-known piece of World War II history.  This daring raid was conducted by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1942 in the neutral harbor of Santa Isabel on the island of Fernando Po (now known as Bioko), which was then part of Spanish Guinea. 

The raid resulted in the Italian ship Duchessa d’ Aosta and the German vessels Likomba and Burundi being spirited out to international waters where they were “captured” by the Royal Navy, all while German and Italian naval officers were being heavily wined and dined by SOE operatives on shore.  While this raid is worthy of a book of its own, it represents just one of the many untold stories of the SOE in Giles Milton’s “Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”.

Milton’s book, however, is far more than a chronicle of some of the SOE’s activities during the war. Indeed, in many ways it offers a window into the entrepreneurial spirit of the day, serving as a model of creativity for modern-day would-be tech entrepreneurs.

The book also introduces the reader to a remarkable cast of characters that never stood under the spotlight during the war: A brilliant engineer known for building recreational vehicles who invented new weapons. The many women who made invaluable contributions to the clandestine war effort. The heroes dropped behind enemy lines to accomplish tasks of sabotage against incredible odds. Even spy novelist Ian Fleming makes an appearance in Milton’s pages for the campaigns of disinformation he helped orchestrate. Diplomacy, espionage, courage and strategic thinking are all woven into the mix.

The work also exposes how, all too often, political backstabbing plagues organizations, providing important lessons even for the modern reader. Some in the British government were more concerned with protecting their turf than doing what was best for the broader effort. It’s a sentiment not uncommon in corporate boardrooms, government offices and academic ivory towers of today.

The book also serves as a stark reminder in modern times of how unorthodox methods and ideas can and should be implemented to defeat the forces determined to destroy those freedoms which we hold so dear. When faced with such challenges, one must be ungentlemanly indeed.

Previous reviews by Chris Smith:

Editor’s note: This review is part of Global Atlanta’s annual project asking influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued each year since 2011. Purchases through the Amazon affiliate links at top will provide a commission to Global Atlanta. All reviews were written independently with only mild editing from our staff.