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Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914-1945 [Hardcover]

Nicholas Rankin
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)

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Hardcover, 2 Oct 2008 --  
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Book Description

2 Oct 2008
Every German spy in Britain was captured and many were used to send back false information. There was bogus wireless traffic from phantom armies, dummy airfields with model planes, disguised ships and inflatable rubber tanks manufactured by film-studio craftsmen. Not since the Trojan horse had warfare been so cunning. Culminating in the spectacular misdirection of D-Day in 1944, Churchill’s Wizards traces the history of British camouflage, deception and black propaganda in two world wars in a thrilling work of popular military history.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; First Edition edition (2 Oct 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571221955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571221950
  • Product Dimensions: 4 x 16.3 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 372,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`Rankin goes poking and probing the lesser-known facts of the two World Wars. What an entertaining journey he provides.' --Len Deighton

`A story clamouring to be told...I could not stop reading this book once I had begun.' --Doris Lessing


`A story clamouring to be told...I could not stop reading this book once I had begun.'

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars hard to put down 24 Sep 2010
And I thought I knew a lot about both world wars! There was so much going on that just isnt realised. The `stories` in this book would not make a great film but they did make `winning` the wars possible. The shoreline defences of England,the Home Guard,the wood and cardboard false tanks and aircraft that really did confuse the Germans and thus saved many real ones,its incredible that this isnt widely appreciated.
To sum up, a very interesting book. An eye-opener.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Churchill's Wizards 14 May 2010
`Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914 - 1945' describes British military deception in two World Wars: the roles of the intelligence services in grand and smaller deception plans. Guerilla warfare, double agents, black propaganda, camouflage and even sniping are all covered. I found the principles and practice of camouflage and the contributions of painters very interesting. The author describes the roles in the development of deception of well known military figures such T E Lawrence and General Wavell, but also presents the activities of people more famous in other walks of life. These include the authors John Buchan, Ian Fleming, Dennis Wheatley, George Bernard Shaw, HG Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle!

Together these interwoven threads of history made a thoroughly enjoyable read for me. The one minor frustration I found came from the title of the book. This implies the involvement or `ownership' of Winston Churchill in the majority the work. I spent the first half of the book anticipating some revelation of his critical involvement in the development of deception in WWI, but it never came! In fact it was apparent from the book that WSC had little or no involvement in the deception activities relating to WWI.

His involvement in the heart of the story - deception - only became clear about two-thirds of the way through the book, once WWII was well underway, after which our heroes - the Wizards - could truly be described as `Churchill's' because of his direct contributions and patronage. Despite the slightly misleading title I found the book informative, well written and hard to put down.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History explained in straight-forward terms 3 Mar 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
being pre-WW1 born I had read previous accounts of some of the ideas and their applications. But found this book pulled things together in one place, explaining the background in a useful way.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am a ww2 buff and looked forward to reading this book for a long time. It taught me nothing new and breezed over bits in not amazing detail. Expensive book to buy on the kindle, and probably not worth it. Better off reading 'Double Cross' or 'Operation Mincemeat'
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Biggest deception is on the back cover 3 Oct 2009
While the book is an interesting read, there is frankly little about deception in the first 350 pages, so I agree with the other reviewers who say, in effect, it is padded out, demonstrates that the British were not great, never mind wizards, at deception with a few notable exceptions.

The title of the book implies it is about the people which is much more accurate than to suggest, as the subtitle does, that it is about British genius.

I bought the book having been deceived by back cover reviews - "You couldn't make this stuff up ....... we could not have imagined the scope of the inventiveness, the daring of these people's imaginations". Either these reviewers are paid by the publishers or they can't have read the book.

The first book I have read where I have been really disappointed by the lack of real content.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven. Wonderful in places, but... 1 Sep 2009
By Chris Widgery VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Mr Rankin promises us a ride into the secret world of deception, camouflage, secret agents and misdirection that helped Britain in two world wars. And indeed we do get that. That bit takes up about half of the book. The other half is excerpts from people's diaries, essays about the war, Churchill's political career, bits snipped out of his family history, bit more about the war that doesn't actually have anything to do with deception, camouflage, secret agents and misdirection. Padding, really. When I picked the book up, I thought, "Wow, this will be fascinating". But there's an awful lot of pages to get through. So some judicious editing could have turned this into a very lean 250/300 pages.

That said, when you do get to the deception, camouflage etc etc, you fly through them. It's cracking stuff. Some is very Boys Own, some almost unbelieveably dotty British eccentricity and, above all, huge amounts of resourcefulness, imagination and bravery. The stories are incredible. And you realise how much the success of D Day depended on some wooden tanks and landing craft of a fictional US Army Group in Kent.

So it's worth a read, all the more so if you're willing to skip bits.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Too generalised for the most part 16 Sep 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book by Nicholas Rankin has something in common with another purchased at the same time, namely Ben MacIntyre's 'Double Cross' and there is some minor overlap. The difference is that where MacIntyre's book exclusively covers events during the latter years of WW2, this one covers both WW1 and WW2 as well as the years in-between.

During WW1 Churchill held several Government posts and had been involved in the earlier Boer War where he presumably gained some insight into military thinking and planning. Some of those ideas were than put into play during WW1 to try to deceive Germany and to hopefully benefit the Allies (then including Japan) to help ensure the defeat of Germany. However, ideas and technologies were then far more basic than they became 25 or more years later.

After the first few months of WW2 when Churchill was asked to lead a wartime coalition government, he assumed much of the responsibility for British war efforts. Although he may not have provided the original ideas, he acted as the head of a committee that considered and sometimes approved ideas that originated from many other minds. Accordingly Churchill was given much of the credit when these ideas were successfully employed, hence the title and accreditation of this book's title.

Many technologies had been vastly improved during the later inter-war years and new ones were developed including television and radar which were to prove militarily beneficial. The War itself would prompt further developments either to achieve specific aims previously thought impossible or to counter German developments.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 10 days ago by Henry
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very very interesting read. Never knew half of this went on during the war
Published 28 days ago by MARK FROM SURBITON
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting to see what lengths were taken to deceive
Certainly found the content very interesting and revealing a little more of what went on behind the action in trying to deceive the opposition.
Published 1 month ago by IRPDB
5.0 out of 5 stars Rankin waves his wand
A good romping read.
Published 1 month ago by Martyn Neale
3.0 out of 5 stars Choosing books as a gift
It was a gift and I think it was enjoyed!
Published 1 month ago by Haus Frau
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book Well researched
The book covers military deception from both World War 1 and WW2

We have probably all heard of various schemes, some of which seem almost mad but were proven to... Read more
Published 8 months ago by LHDIAN
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting history for non-historians !
Not a subject I ever expected to enjoy, thanks to Amazons daily deal I tried it and enjoyed it a lot.
Published 9 months ago by tcmum
5.0 out of 5 stars Smoke and Mirrors.......!!
This is a fascinating story of the way in which with limited resources Britain sought to defeat the tyranny of Nazi Germany
Published 9 months ago by ALUN PRICE-DAVIES
2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't get on with this book
I had high hopes of this book and was disappointed by the content. I persevered for some time but was put off by the number of references to names of people I didn't recognise and... Read more
Published 9 months ago by MRS
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
I loved this book. Every story from WW2 that I had heard of is in this book from the Cockleshell heroes to The man who never was. Brilliant!
Published 10 months ago by Chris Marlowe
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