on 4 October 2011
Nick Rankin has delivered a must-read! "Ian Flemings Commandos: The Story of 30 Assault Unit in WWll" is a fantastically concise yet comprehensive account of the team of British elite soldiers and Naval officers who were picked for some of the most risky yet important wartime missions. The book is a sprawling saga covering the run up to war, the contexts in which the need for German intelligence arrived and the formation of a specialist team who were overseen by Ian Fleming, later the author of James Bond who next year celebrates 50 years of cinematic exploits.
This is not to say that the exploits that this book goes on to detail are focussed around Bond's creator, whose story has been expounded upon elsewhere and because "although Fleming originated the idea of what he first called an `advanced intelligence unit', then an `intelligence assault unit', he himself was forbidden to go in with them on their first mission because his wartime job in Naval Intelligence made in privy to many secrets... that could never be allowed to fall into enemy hands" [P.3]. The book goes on to provide an even more enthralling story of the men themselves who throughout the war were sent in to the front lines to "pinch" enemy intelligence.
"Ian Fleming's Commandos..." is a hugely engrossing page turner that mixes historical fact, with humour (a recruit in training's confused midnight peeing in the wardrobe of guesthouse) and pathos that comes from the toll of war (30 AU members on the Dieppe raid witness their comrades shot down before their eyes.) This is an impressive book that puts into perspective the vital intelligence and everything that went into acquiring it during the war. Recommended.
Rankin has written here a book which promises more than it delivers, but still delivers a satisfying story. It's a bit about Ian Fleming, who wrote James Bond, and how he was involved in the creation of 30AU, a specialist squad of commandos whose job was stealing Axis weapon systems and other items of military significance. Its best when it focuses on the Enigma stuff early on, and also is interesting whenever (generally in a footnote) it talks about something that cropped up in a Bond book. There is even some literary analysis of Bond in places, something I had not thought possible - although given the classical education Fleming received, I should not have been so surprised.
But the book is not truly about Fleming, or Bond, but really about the exploits of a bunch of Commandos who did crazy things in the North Sea, the Western Desert, Italy, France and Germany. Often as not these exploits were not at first glance spectacular - "we found a widget!" is not the stuff of which legends are made - but the importance of what they did can be seen from the few examples given in the book. Did what they do shorten the war and save lives? The answer has to be yes.
From the first page, to the story of the capture of the archives of the Kriegsmarine which largely closes the book, this is an excellent ride: a look into some of the darker corners of WWII that you usually look past. It may not be for the serious historian in the field, but for those of us with an interest in WWII, it's a great read.
As someone who has a sort of vested interest in the commandos of ww2, my grandfather being one of them. So I purchased a copy just to see if there was anything it added to what I already knew in general and I was interested in 30 assualt unit as I had never delved into thier history.
Great rewarded by the style of the book, its engaging from the off and found myself sneaking off to read pages when I should have been doing other things, finishing in three days. It begins with the how Ian flemings career came about in naval intelligence, also how the commandos are created alongside. Then its onto the importance of technology and acquiring of said technology from the enemy. and Finally it reads like the war diary of 30 Assault unit for the final third. All the way through Fleming and his writing of bond are alluded to as the history of 30 AU and its members as well as other people pop up in the books.
Mr Rankin knows his subject and delivers with great poise and consistency of narrative. There are even flashes of humour that while amusing do not detract from the seriousness of the issues. he covers all the bases as far as popular military history is concerned even going to a greater technical detail than some and even analysing quite deftly some of the aspects covered by the book.
All in all one for military historians of all ilks- the casual reader will enjoy the pace and narratives where as the more serious reader will enjoy the former as well as the depth in which Mr Rankin deals with the subject matter and his treatment being very even handed.
anyone who enjoyed Operation Mincemeat last year or Operation Fortitude this year will love this book and will be a little sorry when its finished but will look forward to more from The author
on 27 December 2011
If a reader who had not the slightest interest in Special Forces units who operated in World War Two picked up this book, I venture to suggest that they would not be able to put it down.
Although I was aware of the existence of 30 Assault Unit from biographical books about the author Ian Fleming, those authors did not attempt to delve into the mechanics of this unit and therefore, if I thought about it at all, I simply wrote it off as another ad hoc unit, such as RM Detachment 385. But the author, Nicholas Rankin has performed a sterling job in producing this thoroughly well-researched book, having spoken to many members of the unit, crammed the book chock-a-block full of background information and injected it with crafty humour. Above all else, it is extremely well-written.
In the `acknowledgements' section, Mr. Rankin mentions that his daughter chided him for writing too slowly - but it's paid off. The meticulous attention to detail will, I hope result in this book being in the best-sellers lists for a long time to come.
on 10 June 2012
I enjoyed this for the most part and it held my interest quite well.
That said, Rankin seems to be trying to write several different books at the same time - a biography of Ian Fleming, a history of 30 Assault Unit and an account of the inner workings of British naval intelligence during WWII. You get a lot of information about the latter and there are an awful lot of names, organisations and departments which you have to try to keep track of to follow later developments. The narrative struck me as a little disorganised at times as the author jumps around from one topic to another (sometimes without bothering to change paragraph) - not sure why the publisher didn't iron that out...
Overall, there's lots of interesting material here and I don't regret buying it. I think it would have been a better book, however, if it had stuck to a tighter focus and been more selective about how much historical context to include. Unsurprisingly, the book is at its most interesting when the focus is on the officers and men of 30AU. Oddly, the reformation of the unit in 2010 merits just over one page though.
Lovely cover by the way!
on 10 May 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Well paced and comprehensively researched, I was impressed by the manner in which Nicholas Rankin has interwoven so many different aspects of the intelligence picture in such an engaging manner; it is a fascinating read. I was especially interested to learn of the immense creative tension across the different groups involved, which the author has depicted so well. So many other histories paint a more coherent picture but Nicholas Rankin has undoubtedly alighted on a different interpretation.
The footnotes are greatly welcomed, especially those touching upon the Bond connection. For those seeking a biography of Ian Fleming, purchasing this book may be a disappointment because the title revolves around commandos rather than Ian Fleming but he adds another interpretation to an important chapter of his life. Most importantly though, the author has brought vividly to life a whole series of people, whose courage and exploits, helped to win the war against the brutal Fascist dictators.
on 1 January 2012
The book is marketed as a Fleming book but in reality Fleming appears little and Bond even less. I found this a pity as both Fleming and his fictional alter ego remain fascinating creatures. Still, there are some great scenes, not least the amusing vignettes of Fleming's insouciance and arrogance at NID, and the capture of the German naval archive at Tambach. Some of the material felt a bit like filler; having to go over the same old familiar Bletchley Park material yet again seemed a touch unnecessary and I'd relish not hearing about another bombe in my life. But overall, I'd strongly recommend the book as it puts the Bond books in their proper historical context, showing that their apparently unlikely plots were based on the very real plans hatched at NID (eg Operation RUTHLESS).
on 21 November 2011
Following on smartly from his success with `Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914-1945' Nick Rankin has once again delivered a must-have/must-read book with his `Ian Fleming's Commandos: The Story of 30 Assault Unit in WWII' (Faber & Faber). I found the book totally engaging and very hard to put down. The value of extensive researching has certainly paid off with a book which is a punchy, pacey, comprehensive account of a very specialist and elite group of men that were tasked to pinch German and Italian technologies as well as vital documentation. Following the story from Dieppe to the end of hostilities, Rankin's passion for the subject as well as his engaging narrative, use of maps, quality images and descriptive nouns makes for a cracking read and we can readily see that Ian Fleming's concept to create an intelligence assault unit was certainly a war-winning idea. It is also clear from the men that Fleming employed is where he found the many and varied inspirations for the character of James Bond'. Rankin also injects occasional, yet welcome humour and irony in to his script without detracting from the accomplishments and brave deeds of those who fought. It is also worth mentioning that once again a Rankin book has an eye-catching jacket; the designer of the covers should be congratulated. In short, I thoroughly recommend this book without reservation as well as Nick Rankin's Faber & Faber stable mate, Tony Hugill's recently re-released and superb book `The Hazard Mesh' (originally published in 1946 and restricted to 500 copies) to anyone with an interest in World War Two and in particular 30 Assault Unit.
on 29 January 2013
The world of military history would be a poorer place without this exciting and enegetic book. I loved finding out about the secretive operations carried out by 30 Assault Unit in WWII - much that one could never know and the involvement of Ian Fleming. The detail uncovered is extensive and must have been a marathon of research for Nicholas Rankin. But we are the beneficiaries - I found myself diving into Ian Fleming's Commandos whenever a moment came wanting to know more. One didn't really want it to end. Other reviews have done good service by explaining the story so I am content to say, excellent read for anyone curious about what goes on behind the scenes and it fills an important gap in our knowledge of military adventure.
It has long been known that Ian Fleming served in Naval Intelligence during the Second World War. There is even a famous photograph of him in the Admiralty, perhaps anticipating later film stills of his creation, James Bond. This book gives us an overview his activities at this time, and how Fleming's experiences later came out in the Bond books.
It perhaps also illustrates, in part, how the Bond novels came to be so different to those of John Le Carre, who also served in intelligence. In the early pages Rankin describes how Fleming was recruited and the nature of Naval Intelligence. This, in wartime especially, is much more concerned with covert operations and sabotage with an aim towards military victory rather than the long-term information gathering of the Secret Intelligence Service. This is the difference between a James Bond and a George Smiley.
What emerges here is the brilliance of Ian Fleming as a lateral thinker and the immense imagination that he put to use devising various means to obtain information, one of them called "the pinch." This was use of commandos to secretively steal code books and machines from German military establishments that were being raided and destroyed by British Forces. These items were often taken to Bletchley Park where the Enigma messages were decoded. Thus we can say Fleming played a small part in this intelligence drama also.
Yet, Rankin does not skip some of the difficulties encountered, not least bureaucratic rivalries in the British Government that lead to the end of the career of Fleming's mentor, head of Naval Intelligence, Admiral Sir John Godfrey. He also highlights the lack of strategic appreciation of scientific advances on the part of the Military which was only corrected because of Churchill's interventions, which in turn helped to bring into prominence the likes of Fleming. As Rankin suggests, Fleming may be one of the unsung people whose work helped to transform the fortunes of British Forces.
Towards the end of the book Fleming in someways becomes less prominent, as the commando operations are described. Yet there is still one final coup, which Fleming masterminded, getting his hand on the whole archives of the German Navy which confirmed just how useful the operations of his ilk had been.
This is a fascinating story for those interested in military and naval history, intelligence matters and in the personality of Ian Fleming himself. There are good pen portraits of many of the characters in this tale, not least Godfrey and Fleming. On the whole it's a good read, though sometimes the narrative flags, despite this being an exciting tale. One wishes for something of Fleming's narrative sweep as in the Bond books and ability to maintain pace in story telling. Hence three stars rather than the four or five this story deserves.