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Pioneers of Irregular Warfare (Hardback)

Secrets of the Military Intelligence Research Department of the Second World War

WWII Military

By Malcolm Atkin
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 256
Illustrations: 30 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526766007
Published: 12th April 2021
Last Released: 21st May 2021



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Covert operations and ingenious weapons for irregular warfare were developed rapidly, and with great success, by the British during the Second World War, and the story of the most famous organizations involved like SOE, the SAS and Section D of SIS is now well known, but Military Intelligence (Research), the smallest but one of the most influential of these units is relatively unknown.

Malcolm Atkin’s intriguing and meticulously researched account describes their role at the heart of the War Office in trying to develop a ‘respectable’ arm of irregular warfare and their innovations ranging from the early Commandos, sticky bombs, limpet mines, booby traps, and even helicopters to the creation of the MI9 escape organization. They were an ‘ideas factory’ rather than an operational body but the book describes their worldwide operations including Finland, Norway, Romania, the Middle East and Central Africa.

This is also a story of conflicting personalities between Jo Holland, the visionary but self-effacing head of MI(R) and his ambitious deputy, Colin Gubbins (later head of SOE), and the latter’s private war with SIS.

"Any serious student of special ops origins owes Mr. Atkin’s work his or her attention."

The NYMAS Review

This is one of those little books that should do well because they celebrate the little known stuff of this case irregular warfare in WWII. We’ve all surely heard of SOE and the SAS etc, but this book follows the path and events of the Military Intelligence (Research) department. The book basically explains how the network was set up and who was recruiting and the various ways of training, there is also quite a bit about some of the devices and weapons they came up with such as the painful sounding De-Bollocker, and I will leave that to your painful imagination. Also from this book, it showed up how the top brass of these intelligence services was rarely able to get on together and there was often conflict between the heads. A really interesting book, probably more one for the people who like slightly obscure bits of history.

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UK Historian

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Painstakingly researched, thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, enhanced with a multi-paged section of historical photos, "Pioneers of Irregular Warfare: Secrets of the Military Intelligence Research Department of the Second World War" is a unique and welcome addition to the growing library of World War II histories.

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Midwest Book Review

Pioneers of Irregular Warfare: Secrets of the Military Intelligence Research Department of the Second World War is a deeply researched study of how the business of irregular warfare got underway and a survey of the operations subsequently undertaken. It provides summaries of these operations and has a multitude of references.

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WW2 Today
 Malcolm Atkin

About Malcolm Atkin

Malcolm Atkin is head of the Historic Environment and Archaeology Service for Worcestershire, and he is one of the leading authorities on the English Civil Wars. His publications include Cromwell's Crowning Mercy: the Battle of Worcester and The Civil War in Evesham: A Storm of Fire and Leaden Hail.

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