Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare Audio Book Review

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

Authored and Narrated by Giles Milton

Audiobook, 12 hours and 38 minutes

Published by Macmillan Audio

Language: English


While “not fighting fairly” was frowned upon in the upper levels of the British military, those advocating commando and guerrilla operations found a powerful patron in Winston Churchill.  Churchill supported the expansion of sabotage and clandestine operations by removing bureaucratic obstacles and providing funding, and delighted in the demonstration of new weapons and successful operations.  He referred to the engineering and clandestine operations as his “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”.

This book explores two separate but related efforts.  One focus is the work of engineers and inventors who developed various weapons and devices.  One of the more well-known is what has become known as the Limpet Mine, which was originally produced in a garage workshop using kitchen pans, condoms, and candy.  Another is the spigot mortar, which was developed into the Hedgehog anti-submarine projector and used to devastating effect by both the Royal Navy and the USN.  The PIAT anti-tank weapon was another off-shoot of this.

The second effort is perhaps better known; the training and deployment of Commandos and sabotage operators.  Trained in various street fighting techniques by Sykes and Fairbane, several of their missions are legendary.  Covered in this book are well-known operations such as the destruction of the Norsk Hydro heavy water plant in Norway, which prevented Germany from pursuing atomic weapons.  Another is the Saint Nazaire Raid which destroyed the Normandie Drydocks.  Other less well-known operations are described as well, a few of which were new to me.

This is a very interesting and informative work.  It does not suffer from shifting from the workshop to the field, as each perspective builds on the considerations of the other.  The difficulties in producing a reliable time delay fuse which is able to function under a variety of conditions is something which is easy to take for granted, but proved to be quite a challenge in practice.  Overall this book offers several insights and is well worth the read.

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