Hello all! It’s been a busy March. In addition to a 2-week March Break (I’m itching to get back into the classroom!) , I’ve also switched Internet/Cable providers and… oh yes, gotten engaged! I’m glad to be back in the swing of blogging, though. I’m excited to share with you my thoughts on my most recent read — Ian Fleming’s Commandos: 30 Assault Unit in WWII by Nicholas Rankin (Faber and Faber, 2011).
For those who don’t know me, I love the Bond novels. Every summer I re-read Fleming’s Dr. No and Thunderball. To me, they are a perfect combination of Cold War history, adventure and intrigue.
I like the films too — although I’m a Connery girl, and the Roger Moore films are rarely seen in my house. I even managed to use it as a year-long project in my American History Class — ending in a 20-something page paper called “Bond in America.” But I digress.
Rankin’s Ian Fleming’s Commandos isn’t so much about Bond, although hints of it are there. Instead, it’s about Ian Fleming’s role in the Second World War, and the formation and action of 30 Assault Unit: front line troops specifically designated for stealing enemy intelligence.
Although the book is not as gripping as Dr. No, I was fascinated to follow Rankin’s narrative about ciphers and decoding in the Second World War (who knew the Enigma machine was so fascinating?), especially in Chapters 3 & 4 “Technology and War” and “The Philosophy of the Pinch.” Chapters 12 on also had me absolutely riveted — from Operation Cobra to the end of the war, including 30 AU’s most famous coup: the entire archives of the Germany Navy (a find that weighed almost 400 tons in total).
If you’re expecting a biography of Ian Fleming, this is not it. There is a brief biography at the beginning, and Fleming pops up regularly throughout the book. But its main focus is on the men of 30AU, and the greater themes of intelligence and code-breaking in the Second World War. If you’re a Bond novels fan like myself, you’ll find some nuggets scattered throughout. Was Strangeways, the British Secret Service agent in Jamaica in Dr. No, named after Colonel David Strangeways from Middle East Intelligence Centre? And is the Lektor machine in From Russia With Love a mimic of the bewildering German Enigma machine?
Although it sometimes plods along — especially as we get into details of British bureaucracy, Rankin’s work is most exciting in the vivid way he brings to life the stories and misadventures of 30AU and intelligence in the Second World War. At just under 400 pages, it may take you a little time to get through, but it is well worth it.