As a fan of military history (please stop me from buying old books in bulk, it is a sickness) I have always had a soft spot for the SOE and OSS operations in WWII. Having met a few veterans of those operations in later years only increased the interest.
With that in mind, it was a no-brainer that “Churchill’s Secret Agents: The New Recruits” caught my eye on Netflix.
The premise is that they pick a group of volunteers and put them through a (modified) version of the SOE’s selection process to see if they have the intestinal fortitude for leading resistance cells across occupied Europe.
While some of it, of course, is sensationalized and the weapon training is really just a brief hover, I did find it mildly entertaining, and hopefully, it will spark renewed interest in the subject for those who seldom crack open old books.
Israeli spy Eli Cohen, whose Omar Sherif good looks and smooth attitude allowed him to penetrate the Syrian defense ministry and highest levels of politics like the stuff of a Bond film under the cover identity of Kamal Amin Taabet, was caught in mid-transmission by the Syrians in 1964 after a KGB HF/DF team tracked his radio down.
His life ended in a public execution in Damascus and his body was reportedly buried three different times over the years to keep the Israelis from finding it.
However, in what was described by the BBC as a secret operation by the Mossad, his wristwatch has been recovered.
The watch, which was with Cohen until his death, surfaced in Syria several months and was put up for sale by whoever stumbled across it. In a twist of fate, Russian assets reportedly help locate it.
Cohen operated behind enemy lines – establishing close ties with the top Syrian political and military leadership – from 1962 until he was hanged almost exactly 43 years ago on May 18, 1965. Cohen, who was known in intelligence circles by the number 566, wrote in encrypted French and sent his messages via a tiny radio transmitter. Cohen’s transmissions were instrumental in helping the IDF prepare for the 1967 war with Syria. He provided information about the Syrian Air Force and military positions on the Golan.
It went far beyond that. His apartment was the crossroads for the Who’s Who of Damascus, which he encouraged, and then dutifully took note. This evolved into field trips to highly secure locations throughout the country, blessed by the Syrian brass. Cohen somehow managed to make it back home three times from Syria, on each occasion bringing photographs and sketches of Syrian positions– strategic gold.
A national hero in Israel, Sacha Baron Cohen of all people is set to play Cohen in new Netflix movie.
From a great BBC article about a group trying to document the experiences of a dwindling pool of WWII British military veterans forgotten in Burma:
The year is 1944, and darkness is falling over the thick jungle of Burma’s eastern hills. Under the dripping canopy, a young Karen man holds his breath as he carefully conceals a landmine in the undergrowth beside a jungle track.
He scrambles up the steep hillside, uncoiling wire as he goes. At the top of the hill, he removes the fuse from a hand-grenade and connects it to the wire. He settles into position and waits.
It doesn’t take long. A cohort of Japanese soldiers – who have been occupying Burma since 1942 – approaches the young man’s position. With the enemy just yards away, he closes his eyes and activates the fuse.
“Oh it was horrible,” he gasps. “So many died. The stones flew up high into the sky and then fell back down.”
A U.S. Army Machine Gun Team from Company A, Ninth Machine Gun Battalion, 6th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, AEF, man a machine gun set up in railroad shop in Chateau Thierry, France, on June 7, 1918, 100 years ago today.
This was during the Aisne Defensive, which in days saw the entire division take to the front line for the first time and three weeks later switched to holding the southern crossing of the Marne against the Germans even when surrounding units retreated.
Although the U.S. military had access to a number of machine guns going into WWI– including the 25-pound Model 1909 Benet Mercie, which was cranky but proved its worth in repelling Villa’s raid on Columbus, NM in 1916; as well as the 35-pound Colt-Browning M1895 “Potato Digger” which was mass-produced by Marlin during the war; and the excellent 28-pound Lewis light machine gun– the American Expeditionary Force to France was armed in large part with 7,000 French Mle 1914 Hotchkiss machine gun of the example shown above.
A 53-pound weapon, it was far from “light” though it was designed by the same Mssrs. Benet and Mercie as the M1909, but it was simple (just 32 parts, assembled with no pins or screws) and reliable. Fed through a 30-round metal strip, a three-man crew could keep em coming enough to get a 120~ round-per-minute cyclic rate and keep it up until the ammo ran out which it made a good complement to the vaunted (but twice as heavy) Browning Model 1917A1 water-cooled machine gun.
Though the U.S. Army would replace the M1914 with the much better Browning M1919 in the 1920s, the “Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss modèle 1914” remained in use with other countries through WWII and even into the 1950s and later with the Chinese and in various Latin American countries.
The unit shown above, the 9th Machine Gun Battalion was formed just for the war in October 1917 and fought with the 3rd ID through Chateau Thierry, and the Meuse-Argonne, leaving a number of its brave gunners “Over There.”
General Pershing called the stand of the 3rd ID along the Marne “one of the most brilliant pages of our military annals,” and today the division is known, of course, as “The Rock of the Marne.”
Great original color photo of battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) Gunner’s Mate Second Class Charles J. Hansen working on one of the big Iowa-class dreadnought’s 40mm quad Bofors machine gun mounts, during the battleship’s shakedown period, circa August 1944.
Note his tattoos, commemorating service on USS Vincennes (CA-44) and shipmates lost with her in the Battle of Savo Island on 9 August 1942.
If Hansen was still aboard “The Mighty Mo” when the surrender ceremony was held on her stern the just 13 months and 11 battlestars after this image was shot, he no doubt thought things had come full circle.
After 23 years in the nest, the college graduate is flapping her wings and setting sail to her own digs. *Sniff*
So I had a housewarming present made for her. Apparently, Wal-Mart will print anything on a blanket.
Anyway, have a good weekend!