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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 24 September 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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on 30 October 2012
This is quite an interesting read, as long as you don't expect it to fit the title! As other reviewers have noted, the mention of Churchill in the title is misleading. He obviously features in the book, but this is a general introduction to deception, camouflage, and other such shenanigans as used during WW1 and WW2. As such it is quite a good book.
It can be a bit patchy; too detailed in some places, and lacking in substance in others, but for a reader new to this area of the two wars, it makes an interesting starting point.
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on 16 April 2016
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on 15 October 2015
Interesting subject. Quite a tome. Good quality 2nd hand book
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on 29 June 2017
Very good.
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on 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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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. The concept of deception was by 1945 very highly tuned such that rather than relying on one person to pass misleading information to the enemy many were used, each to supply an snippet which then allowed the enemy to add the bits together and form their own conclusions. This also provided the satisfaction that they had cleverly assembled the whole puzzle, which enforced their self-deception, itself part of the original idea.

The book is substantial, covering almost 30 individual chapters and is well-written and relatively easy to read. However, there is too much gravy and too little meat. A possibly too large proportion of the book offers a lead-up to the main subject, providing political and military histories and thinking as well as other related information. It is only within the last quarter or so that the actual detail of the various schemes used within both Wars and how some were implemented in the between-wars years. Consequently, there are better alternatives should you want more of the details of individual or collective ideas.
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The concepts of camouflage, propaganda, double agents, secret intelligence, snipers, guerilla units and commandos are all so much a part of our modern image of warfare that it's hard to remember that most of these developments only came in with the twentieth century. I suppose it took the horror and carnage of the trenches to finally bury the notion that warfare could ever be civilised, a gentlemanly game between two sides who both played by the same rules. Once it became a matter of 'win at all costs', the ends could always justify the means, and deception instead of honour became one of the cardinal rules.

The British as a nation have always been in two minds about deception and honour. On the one hand as a people we love dressing-up, pageantry, showmanship, acting, and rarely ever say what we mean. On the other hand there's still a very strong streak of 'old-fashioned values', and these twin aspects of the national character show up in the military perhaps more than elsewhere. Throw two world wars into the mix, and what results is a fascinating blend of trial and error, genius and blundering incompetence, triumph and disaster.

Many intriguing and well-known characters pass through these pages, from TE Lawrence to Ian Fleming, George Bernard Shaw and John Buchan. Indeed, many of the earliest of those individuals involved in the art of camouflage and deception were deliberately drawn from the arts - painters, sculptors, writers. That said, anyone looking for a rollicking, fast-paced thriller scattered with famous names had better look elsewhere. Whilst dummy tanks, spies, forged documents and double agents are here a-plenty, this book takes the longer and more general viewpoint. This is however a thoroughly interesting overview of how deception came to be an established weapon in the military arsenal, or at least the British military arsenal in world wars 1 and 2.

Just a warning - despite the title, this isn't purely about Churchill's role in fostering this kind of underhand warfare - I suspect the title is simply a publishers' gambit to sell more copies. Churchill sells, after all.
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on 3 March 2012
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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VINE VOICEon 1 September 2009
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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