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Pioneers of Irregular Warfare

...from Pen & Sword

Title: Pioneers of Irregular Warfare
Author: Malcolm Atkin
Publisher: Pen &Sword
ISBN: 978-1-52676-600-7

As the sub-title tells us, this tells us the secrets of the Military Intelligence Research (MI(R)) Department in the Second World War. A 234-page hardcover book telling us the story of this department from just before the start of WW2 through to the end of 1940 when it was reorganised/closed down and much of the work it did transferred to the new SOE.
Chapter 1 details the formation of MI(R), a section which I struggled with a little, as it is filled with many different sets of initials of various departments, such as MI(R)a, b and c, SIS, Section D, GS(R) and others. Thankfully it gets so much better as we reach the Outbreak of War, the Technical Section with their various technical devices they designed and built, and their work on firstly Training & Recruitment and then Escape, Evasion & Deception. Then it moves on to the various schemes they put into action, arranged by region. So, from Central & Eastern Europe, Romania & the Balkans, Scandinavia, Western Europe, Britain & the Americas, the Caucasus, Middle East & Africa as well as Asia, The Far East & Australia. I for one had no idea just how widespread our efforts were in many of these parts of the world at this early stage of WW2. The various different missions undertaken by members of MI(R) were really rather varied, and met with varying degrees of success and failure. The Independent Companies operating in Norway played a part in the evolution of what became the Commandoes but the different opinions regarding how to best organise and persuade other nations to resist the German invaders, along with the involvement of uniformed, armed groups caused plenty of controversy. A number of well know names crop up within the various stories, including for example Orde Wingate, who put his ideas into practise later with his Chindit operations in the Far East. A number of people were involved, some with good ideas, others whose personal rivalries created obstacles between the various departments at home, let alone upsetting some of the foreign contacts they were trying to influence. In the end, MI(R) was disbanded and a number of its' members moved on to be significant members of the new SOE (Special Operations Executive) organisation which carried on through the remainder of the war.
I found this a really interesting read though the rivalries between various government departments, including the War Office who felt that they should have more control over the co-ordination between the aims of the uniformed services and the work of guerrilla forces. Some were good at working with others while others were too concerned with their own agenda/careers. It's a story of a learning process, when some things worked and some things didn't but the sheer breadth of the work that MI(R) did was quite eye opening to me with just how widespread it was in this first year or so of the war.
Thanks to Pen & Sword for our review copy.


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