- Published on Amazon.com
"Secret Flotillas Volume II" should be required reading for all operators and intelligence officers involved in clandestine maritime operations and particular for their superiors! The same skills of seamanship, navigation, engineering, communication, planning, organization and support are as critical today as they were during the Second World War; likewise, the same challenges of internal and intra service rivalries, lack of understanding by the higher ups-civilian and military- as well as hostile shores, mother nature and Mr. Moon will continue to dog the operator. Though the use of military vessels from PT, MTB, MAS boats and submarines are described as well as some military raids (by what we would now call special operations forces) and beach reconnaissance are mentioned, the themes of this book are `the maritime' insertion of Allied agents, extraction of these agents, extraction of civilians and military evaders and re-supply of agents and partisan groups in the Western Mediterranean and Adriatic during the Second World War (For more on the Aegean see Adrian Seligman's excellent "War in the Aegean"; on clandestine beach reconnaissance see "Stealthily by Night" and "The Secret Invaders;" finally on sea raiding in the Med see John Lodwick's incomparable "The Filibusters" [UK] or "Raiders from the Sea" [USA] and G. B. Courtney's "SBS in Word War Two.") For espionage aficionados, you will not get much on what specific agents were inserted and/or extracted as well as what they brought with them, but there are fascinating hints (particularly in Volume I about stacks of identity documents purloined by French sisters, so much for master forgers) and you will see how it was really done, not Kate Blanchette in "Charlotte Gray."
While Sir Brooks Richards is an excellent writer and was a first hand participant in the theater as a former SOE officer (see Volume I and my review of that book), the coverage of the operations and sub-theaters-varies wildly from many chapters on the Polish efforts to extract large numbers of interned Polish soldiers in Southern France and her Mediterranean colonies as well as land their own and other allied agents (the real heart and take aways of the book are here) to a paragraph on the sinking of the Italian aircraft carrier "Aquila" by a British manned Higgins PT Boat, Italian MAS boat, Italian Mini subs and San Marco combat swimmers (no end notes or references, sorry). Lt Marian Kadulski's (nom de gurre Krajewski) translated operational reports of his missions with broken down fishing boats are worth the price of the book alone! Some of the same hurdles he faced in action were what my comrades and I encountered in the 1980's re-inventing the wheel prior to the birth of the Special Boat Teams in the 1990's. Kadulski's successor's, Lt. Jan Buchowski's, exploits and death are fodder for an Alan Furst novel. You will also find the equally fascinating Captain Jean L'Herminier and the elderly French submarine "Casabianca" as well as unusual cooperation between SIS, SOE, OSS and the Italians in Bastia after the Italian capitulation, with more fascinating characters, though their adventures are not as well described (Richards does tell you about "Corsican Command," which I have ordered). There is a re-hash of General Mark Clark's submarine ride and canoe trip to North Africa prior to Operation Torch (better covered elsewhere, see Courtney's "SBS in World War II") and many smaller bits and pieces. The photos are about what you would expect from a book published in the 1950's through 1980's illustrating the personalities and craft, but this is not a good source for the modeler. The book also suffers from the lack of maps/charts/diagrams. A few fold-out maps, a relic from by gone days, would be worth a couple of dollars in the new paperback edition.
My old shipmate Jim Gray from the Special Boat Squadron/Units had highly recommended both Volumes and thought I would particularly like Volume II. He was right on all accounts, always trust the Master Chief. As I have the paperback edition of Volume I and the hard back edition of Volume II; I would say unless you are purchasing for a professional library such as the Naval Academy, UDT/Seal Museum or Central Intelligence Agency, the new Pen & Sword paperback editions are sturdy and very serviceable. Also for the price of a used hardback edition, you can get both volumes and have money left over for "War in the Aegean" and other books. Brooks Richards accomplished his objective by preserving these daring sailors' and agents' feats and lessons learned, it is up to you to read about them and take them to heart.