Sunday, October 09, 2005

By William B. Breuer
(John Wiley & Sons)

WE all know that World War II holds many secrets, some of which are yet to be declassified. Well, this books reveals some of the most fascinating secrets that took place during those terrible years.

IT WAS a time when lives were lost through a slip of the tongue. It was a
period when the best of man shone through and the worst of man tore
families apart and cut short the careers of many young people.
Now, more than 60 years later, the tales can be told as historical
documents and classified papers unveil the deeds and misdeeds of those
heroes and spies who went to great lengths to gain the upper hand over the
opposing side.
William Breuer, a military historian of over 25 books, has written a
stirring account of the covert activities of men and women who often
operated behind enemy lines to achieve national objectives. The tales of
behind-closed-door manoeuvrings which kickstarted Adolf Hitler's German
war machine are as gripping today as they were decades ago.
On June 29, 1934, the chief of the German General Staff, General Ludwig
Beck, made an appointment with Chancellor Hitler, the World War I corporal
who had seized control of the German government 17 months earlier.
Beck was concerned about Hitler's designs in rousing a nation of 80
million into war footing. He was a super efficient soldier with an even
better reputation for having humane qualities.
Hitler's answer to Beck's queries was short and to the point: "General
Beck, it is impossible to build up an army and give it a sense of worth,
if the object of its existence is not the preparation for battle. Armies
for the preparation of peace do not exist, they exist for triumphant
execution in war."
With this scenario, the stage for global conflict was set.
Breuer is clearly a historian who delights in narrating tales of stealth
and subversion. Students of history and those who have an appetite for
stories of assassinations, kidnappings, counter-espionage and bizzare
assaults will find this book a marvellous read.
It has over 75 episodes, from cover to cover. To be sure, there are many
more which still bear the "top secret" stamp because of the enormous
implications of their disclosure. Nevertheless, the secrets revealed here
are enough to hold the reader's attention for several scintillating
evenings. Breuer is eminently fair in relating the stories. He shows that
there were heroes and heroines on both sides.
Germany had an enormous reservoir of highly skilled military strategists
and scientists. Consider Carl Heine, a spy who worked as a Ford executive
in Washington and collected a load of information simply by subscribing to
magazines like Popular Aviation and writing letters to Chrysler
Corporation, which at that time was producing the B-24 bomber.
Heine was a trained agent of the Abwwehr, Germany's secret service. He
learned how to use microfilm with Leica cameras and to send reports home
using invisible ink.
On the other side of the Pacific was a spymaster who laid the groundwork
for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Tamon Yamaguchi, a captain of
the Japanese Imperial Navy, spoke fluent English and was a prominent
figure in Washington's social circles.
For several years, Yamaguchi sent coded messages back to Tokyo
concerning the United States' military secrets. When his cover was broken,
he was recalled by the home office. On his return to Japan, he was
promoted to rar admiral and later became the chief aide to Admiral Isoroku
Yamamoto, chief of the combined Japanese Imperial Fleet. Thus were the
seeds of war sown over the vast Pacific region.
Thousands of miles away, in beleaguered Britain, Prime Minister Winston
Churchill took a gamble involving enormous stakes. It was 1939 and the
country's back was against the wall as German war planes pounded night and
day. Europe was lost. France had been overrun by Germany and held in
terror by the Schutzstaffel, the dreaded SS, Hitler's elite private army.
Britain was all alone and fighting for survival.
Using stealth and stratagem, Churchill ordered the across-the-ocean
shipment of Britain's gold and securities amounting to US$2.5 billion
(worth more than US$25 billion in 1999) for safekeeping in Canada. The
move, codenamed "Operation Fish", was a major success.
But war is not without its light moments. At the beginning of the
fighting, Germany recruited a lawyer from Hamburg named Hermann Goertz to
spy in Ireland. He turned out to be probably the unluckiest spy in the
entire war.
For a start, Goertz parachuted into the wrong place, 70 miles from his
actual destination. He was lost for days and walked around in his
Luftwaffe uniform. He nearly drowned when he tried to swim across a river.
His supply of invisible ink leaked and the ultimate humiliation came when
he was robbed by IRA men.
Finally, he was arrested. His final and only act which he did not botch
was suicide. Goertz bit the cyanide pill he was carrying and put an end to
his blighted mission.
Top Secrets of World War II unveils the extreme measures undertaken by
both the Axis and Allied nations, and the brave acts of quiet men and
women who died in the torture chambers of the Gestapo or in the fields and
streets of little known towns across Europe.

1 comment:

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