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Behind the Lines: The Oral History of Special Operations in World War II

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Overview

"Compiled from interviews, diaries, letters and contemporaneous first-person accounts - many unpublished until now - this oral history follows the adventures of the courageous men and women who volunteered for service with Britain's Special Operations Executive and the United States' Office of Strategic Services. They parachuted behind enemy lines, often alone, with orders to cause mayhem. Arrest almost always resulted in torture and imprisonment; sometimes in execution." Trained in the black arts of warfare - sabotage, subversion, espionage,
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Overview

"Compiled from interviews, diaries, letters and contemporaneous first-person accounts - many unpublished until now - this oral history follows the adventures of the courageous men and women who volunteered for service with Britain's Special Operations Executive and the United States' Office of Strategic Services. They parachuted behind enemy lines, often alone, with orders to cause mayhem. Arrest almost always resulted in torture and imprisonment; sometimes in execution." Trained in the black arts of warfare - sabotage, subversion, espionage, guerilla tactics and undermining enemy morale by the distribution of insidious propaganda - theirs was a war fought in the shadows. Their activities extended to every theatre of operations: in occupied France, equipped with false identities, they played a deadly game of cat and mouse with the Gestapo; in the Balkans they discovered that the fiery politics of the region were as dangerous as the enemy; in the Burmese jungle, in some of the worst combat conditions of the war, they led native marauders in surprise attacks against the Japanese. From Britain they were supported by a team of back-room boffins who produced expertly forged documents and dreamed up ingenious devices like exploding rats and invisible ink.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
For this oral history of special operations in World War II, Miller, the author of a previous oral history of the D-Day invasion (Nothing Less Than Victory), used personal interviews with the survivors (both from British Special Operations Executives and the U.S. Office of Strategic Services) and their letters to tell each dramatic story. Chapters center on the war's major events, with the fighting in Europe getting larger coverage than that in the Pacific. Each person tells a convincing story of high risk and occasional adventure heightened by the likelihood of capture by the enemy. Capture often meant torture, imprisonment, and death, and life expectancy was about six weeks. Special agents were more often than not turned in by civilians. Each narrative is a true accomplishment and all the more so (from a detached reader's point of view, at least) if the agent were caught. An enjoyable and fascinating read, this book should be of interest to subject specialists or general readers who like the World War II works of Stephen Ambrose or Cornelius Ryan. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Mark Ellis, Albany State Univ., GA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Armed with little more than cyanide pills, countless men and women parachuted behind enemy-held lines during WWII despite forebodings of the worst imaginable fate should they be captured. Miller tells how Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) got started and later worked with the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the latter the forerunner of the CIA. Modeled largely on Ireland's Sinn Fein, Chinese guerilla operations against Japan, Spanish irregulars, and the Nazis, both agencies fomented industrial and military sabotage, labor agitation, disinformation, attacks against leaders like Hitler and Heydrich, boycotts, and riots. Volunteers were secretly selected, with the ablest ones trained in martial arts, radio telegraphy, cryptography, and parachuting. Others made false passports, foreign-appearing clothing, and even stuffed disemboweled rats with explosives. Sixty-plus years after WWII, a hundred or so ex-participants in both SOE and OSS gave Miller firsthand accounts of their exploits. Both famous and obscure patriots tell all: the rigors of training, the horrors of landing in the wrong places, their treatment by traitors in France and elsewhere, the cruelties of Gestapo and Japanese interrogators, and the deprivations they faced from lack of food, horrible terrain, failed communications, and worse. Miller has edited this first-of-a-kind compilation of interviews with typical British wartime "chinupmanship" and has taken the unusual step of naming one Steve Sierros, secretary of Virginia's OSS Society, as nondeserving of thanks for ignoring the requests for returned phone calls, letters, or faxes. An excellent recounting of events worldwide that involved heroic doings beyondthe call of usual wartime service.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641717734
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/2004
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Russell Miller was born in east London and began his career in journalism at the age of 16. While under contract to the Sunday Times magazine, he won four press awards and was voted Writer of the Year by the Society of British magazine Editors. He is the author of eleven previous books, most recently an acclaimed history of the legendary Magnum photo agency.

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