The thing is, we’re grown up now. What was dangerous then is certainly not dangerous now. We need a dangerous book of our own. Fortunately, just in time for this coming Christmas, Zenith Press has given us Special Ops, 1939-1945: A Manual of Covert Warfare and Training by Stephen Bull (Zenith Press 2009, 160 pages). Special Ops is a compilation of several covert operations manuals published during the Second World War, including The Partisan Leader’s Handbook (1939), All in Fighting (1942), Propaganda Efforts against Hitler (1943), Simple Sabotage Field Manual (1944), Manual of Disguise (1944) and Sten Gun Manual (1944). Each is a delightful exploration of the guides given to American and English covert operatives during the war and collectively they offer great insight into the methods that Allied spies employed.
Many of the tactics taught to Allied spies are still quite relevant today. All in Fighting, in particular, was one of the best known unarmed and knife fighting manuals of the 1940’s and offers several excellent methods of self-defense. Of course, it also provides rather detailed directions for readers who believe that the best defense is a good offense! For example, readers will learn how to attack an assailant with a chair and how to burst a foe’s eardrums without using any weapons other than cupped hands.
In addition to the hand to hand combat techniques found in All in Fighting, the other field guides included in Special Ops consider the various techniques relating to and purposes for acts of espionage, methods of effective disguise, the arts of guerilla warfare and creative new weapons and devices available to covert operatives. In addition, Dr. Stephen Bull provides an excellent introduction which both describes the Allied spy organizations during WWII and considers the history and purpose of the manuals themselves.
Special Ops is not without its flaws. Knowledgeable readers will realize that most of the material in the book is already available on-line and that many of the illustrations have been removed. These are minor criticisms, however, as the printed version of the assembled manuals is far more engaging than any version that might be available electronically. More to the point, if we are to feel the part of the World War II spy, shouldn't we also be reading the spy manual in the form that a true WWII espionage agent would have read it? (Of course, just be sure to destroy the manual if you are at risk of being captured!)
Readers who have any interest in the OSS or SOE will find Special Ops to be of particular interest but most people with any interest in history, self-defense and trickery will find Special Ops to be equally engaging. It is difficult to read Special Ops and not be transported back to the days of one’s youth and games of Army and Spy. As such, Special Ops offers both a great opportunity to read several important training manuals in one concise compilation and to enjoy a nostalgic trip back in our own lives. Special Ops, 1939-1945: A Manual of Covert Warfare and Training could very easily have been called The Dangerous Book for Grown-Ups and the title would have fit very well! Indeed, I have read no book this year which is more appropriate for the Christmas stockings of war buffs and students of spy organizations or anyone who just enjoys intrigue and mischief!
Edited by dgmitchell, 22 September 2009 - 02:56 AM.