THE DECEIVERS by Thaddeus Holt


Allied Military Deception in the Second World War
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Massive history of Allied intelligence in WWII, focusing on the misinformation and disinformation that helped assure the success of Torch, Overlord, and other critical operations.

Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan may have proved ferociously powerful foes in battle, but behind the scenes their intelligence networks were surprisingly vulnerable. Writes Holt, an attorney and former undersecretary of the Army: “Of the three Axis intelligence services, the elaborate but poorly managed German system was the most successfully deceived. Deception efforts against the Japanese fell on stony ground, for their even more elaborate system was too incompetent to understand what was being told them, and stood too low in the estimation of the decision-makers for it to have done much good if they had.” The Italians were far better, Holt says, but Italy was not often the target of counterintelligence efforts. Thanks to such vulnerabilities, Allied agents were able to spread misleading information across many theaters of combat, sometimes using ruses of surprising simplicity—a planted briefcase carrying forged papers here, a carefully inaccurate, tapped telephone conversation there—but more often using diabolically clever stratagems. Holt’s history is dense with data, acronyms, and bits of logistics, and it would make for tedious reading were its pages not populated by altogether dashing figures, among them Peter Fleming, the spymaster brother of James Bond novelist Ian, who cooked up two-birds-with-one stone deceptions “at least some of which the Germans passed on to the Japanese”; Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the movie star turned commando and lethal gadget maker; Harold Burris-Meyer, a stereo-sound pioneer who worked on Disney’s Fantasia and who in wartime experimented with “sonic bombs” and sonic deception; Dudley Clarke, a British bon vivant who had “an uncanny habit of suddenly appearing in a room without anyone having noticed him enter it” and seems to have truly enjoyed engineering mayhem. As he and his cohort did, sting-by-sting and operation-by-operation, concocting hoaxes, rumors, phony documents, and misleading plans by the gross.

Absorbing, if surely long: just the thing for military-intelligence buffs and students of WWII history.

Pub Date: June 6th, 2004
ISBN: 0-7432-5042-7
Page count: 1184pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2004