Ian Fleming and SOE's Operation Postmaster

Ian Fleming and SOE's Operation Postmaster

Brian Flett
ARRSE Rating
2 Mushroom Heads
Brian Flett's Ian Fleming and SOE's Operation Postmaster describes a deniable Special Operations Executive mission in World War Two and its link with Ian Fleming's James Bond.

This has been a challenging review to write. On the one hand, the Special Operations Executive, James Bond, international intrigue, Ian Fleming and piracy should all make for a pretty exciting read, especially as it's all true, so I was pretty excited when this book landed on the doormat. On the other hand, it's overly-detailed, sometimes difficult to follow and unevenly paced. It's also quite apparent that the author's sympathies lie with SOE and its personnel and the views and (occasional) objections of conventional forces are contextualised poorly and explained rarely.

I'll give the author his due, the choice of subject matter is quite superb. The book describes Operation POSTMASTER: the SOE's plan to 'cut out' (ie seize) enemy ships interned in the neutral Spanish island of Fernando Po. Politically and diplomatically, this could not be seen to be a British military or naval operation (so as to not encourage Spain to join in the German war effort). This meant that it was to be a deniable operation using SOE or locally-recruited personnel (all of whom were officially not in the Armed Forces). My interpretation is that this did meet a need of the UK's war effort but also very much met the needs of the SOE in expanding their own operations.

According to the author, it is also the genesis of James Bond. Ian Fleming was part of the liaison team to SOE and thus gained much knowledge of its workings, albeit at at a small distance. He also wanted to write a history of such operations after the war and Flett's view is that the Bond series of novels was a way of doing it whilst observing the needs of the Official Secrets Act. This makes a lot of sense and, having read the Bond novels, it's a neat way of telling the stories and I do see the link.. The author occasionally makes the tie-in within the text to certain actions or individuals to similarities with Bond. Some of these make a lot of sense but others are more spurious (I would argue that 'Q' was named for 'Quartermaster' rather than a disguised 'Q-ship').

How the story is written in is part of my issue with the book. There is so much detail in general and frequent references to Bond that the flow of the narrative is sometimes bogged down or disrupted. The occasional footnote would have helped or one or two more appendices the existing ones are pretty good). Additionally, there is so much geographical detail, be it in general about West Africa or in detail about the target, that some maps would have helped. I got that lost (pun intended!) that I had to have a peek at an atlas to get an idea of where the SOE team were moving.

It's hard to recommend this book. The story is fascinating, the links to James Bond are (in general) plausible but the narrative is overly-detailed, somewhat biased and, at times, slow. If you want to know more of the SOE's history or an ardent Bond fan, I'd pick this book up. If you're not, I'd look elsewhere.

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