Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars By all unconventional means possible, 3 July 2012
This review is from: From the Red Army to S.O.E. (Hardcover)
This hardback first edition of "From the Red Army to SOE" published in 1985 contains the personal accounts of Major Leopold Manderstam's life up to and after his WWII clandestine operations for SOE in various neutral countries, mainly in Africa and Europe.

As such the lack of references and sparse use of black and white images are entirely understandable, however the partially indexed nature of the work up to [at best] P raised an eyebrow.

Although Manderstam preferred to be called Len he was more frequently referred to as Mandy whilst he worked for SOE, a term used toward him by various well known persons including GUBBINS and others.

His early years make for incredible reading and stops short of straying into a discussion of the appalling events following the Russian Revolution, however the details provided set the scene very clearly and explain why he developed into the `original thinker' he became - much to the annoyance of several senior officers.

The described method of recruitment into the SOE demonstrates what is referred to as `the old boy network' which in this case did not uncover his former activities in the red Army at a time when Communism was considered to be a serious ideological threat and to which Mandelstam only disclosed much later and was advised not to talk about it.

The view of Mi6 and the Foreign Office toward SOE activities at the time are recounted as being "...beyond the pale; rather as a maiden aunt might regard a niece who became a successful call girl..." which described rather well the somewhat strained relationship as I understand it at the time.

A recurring theme in these recollections is one of not following the rules but focusing on the outcome.

Examples includes using a taxi instead of hiking on an overnight route march; remaining inside a perimeter of a training location so as to successfully complete the mission of gaining entry back in without being seen and when tasked to obtain a set of architectural floor plans for a factory in Manchester he simply rang a colleague who built it who handed them over!

By current standards this would defeat the object of the exercise however this demonstrated [for me at least] an original method of approach that both brought him accolade from those who saw his successes [dubiously obtained admittedly at times] and scorn from those who were more interested in following the rules despite this being `total war'

Mandelstam's account of his conversation with Yeo-Thomas is not recorded in Bruce Marshall's book "The White Rabbit" which if correct is understandable describing as it claims to do, how Yeo-Thomas disclosed his obtaining possession of his two former Gestapo torturers by deceit from French custody and then summarily executing them later by a bridge! [127]

The accounts described within this work are simply remarkable in both detail and number ranging from facilitating the theft of a ship in a neutral territory, to the blowing up of neutral citizen's materials destined for enemy rope makers to actively `engaging' with enemy female agents in such a manner to be within a whisker of being compromised.

Manderstam's descriptions of his assassination planning; gun running; sabotaging of marine diesel for U boats with latex and unexpectedly finding himself in Ireland with a rather pompous British senior officer are fascinating and at times humorous.

Roy Heron is to be congratulated on a well written and easy to follow account of a substantial number of accounts given by Manderstam which at times are so many and so fantastic in their description as to be more from a James Bond script than actual recollections but then ... fact is often stranger than truth.

It is a missed opportunity that this work is not more widely known and its current price on Amazon does not do it justice in any way.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in how the `unconventional' nature of SOE work was actually carried out as recounted by one of those who undertook those tasks in person.
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