A history/biography of a group of courageous women spies in World War II.
Most military historians agree that the anti-Nazi resistance played a critical role in reviving defeated nations’ self-respect after the war but contributed only modestly to the Allied victory. Hollywood and popular writers often disagree, and their number includes journalist Rose (For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History, 2010). Working diligently in the archives, the author turns up stories of Frenchwomen who found themselves in England after the war’s outbreak and volunteered to return to France to organize resistance groups, gather intelligence, and direct sabotage. Hollywood’s version would begin with “based on a true story…” and then make wholesale changes. Forced to stick closer to the facts, Rose delivers a swift-moving account that makes for sometimes-painful reading. French volunteers in the Resistance were overwhelmingly amateurs; sadly, this was also true of Britain’s military Special Operations Executive, which, cheered on by Churchill, recruited, dispatched, and supplied agents. Definitely not amateurs, Gestapo counterintelligence officers monitored radio transmissions, broke codes, transmitted their own disinformation, and arrested agents regularly. By 1943, the heart of the French Resistance and many of Rose’s subjects had been arrested or killed. By 1944, the Allies had gotten their act together, parachuting men and adequate supplies into France in preparation for the Normandy landings. Sabotage from the newly energized Resistance, including a few of Rose’s survivors, made it more difficult to send German reinforcements across France, and its strength grew as enemy forces disintegrated. A skilled journalist but also a member of the history-is-boring school of writing, the author adds novelistic touches throughout, such as her subjects’ inner thoughts and emotions. Readers who tolerate this approach will encounter an expert blow-by-blow account of the surprisingly tedious, always dangerous, and mostly short lives of some heroic women.
A readable spy thriller that fights against the idea of “the original sin of women at war.”