Churchill’s Last Wartime Secret The 1943 German Raid Airbrushed From History – book review

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With an interest in Skirmish gaming, small games and uneven troop numbers,  I found this book by Adrian Searle an interesting read about one of WW2’s unsolved mysteries, invasion scares and hush ups.

Did the Germans ever mount a raid on the radar stations of the Isle of Wight?

Officially according to U.K. Government Archives, no.

However Adrian Searle explores in detail the similar rumours along the East and South Coast such as Shingle Street as comparison material.

The secret  history and development of British radar is covered in another chapter.

The German  raid on Granville harbour in Northern France in March 1945

Operation Biting –  The British Commando  Raid on Radar stations in Bruneval Northern France February 1942  is given another chapter.

Tracing and evaluating eyewitness accounts (mostly German)  and archive material (absences) takes up the rest of the book.

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Chapter headings

What makes this book interesting from a Games scenario point of view is the detailed inclusion of maps and terrain photographs of a raid that may or may not have happened.

A range of characters from German naval and military personnel, radar technicians, British civilians, Home  Guard, British infantry and  ARP Staff are featured.

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Some of the few but well chosen photographs in the book. 

The kind of detailed maps that game scenario writers love.

Here is Adrian Searle’s preface to whet your appetite.

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Preface page 2 – suitably intrigued? 

Any good wartime history book needs blurb and an intriguing cover montage.

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Atmospheric stock photo library shots of a German amphibious assault. 
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The start of the Bruneval raid chapter …

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This should be an interesting scenario inspiration for future raid and Skirmish games.

Things I learned – the battle of Graveney Marsh 27 September 1940 between a downed German Ju88 bomber crew and a detachment of the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Rifles. 

The existence of Royal Military Police Vulnerable Points Wing  The Blue Hats to protect key installations like radar sites in 1941 in addition to the RAF regiment. 

I partly blame my interest in this type of wartime book on the following things in no particular order: Dad’s Army, Bletchley Park and Robert Harris’ book Enigma, Went the Day Well? and The Eagle Has Landed films, and the proliferation of elite forces troops like paratroops produced by Airfix that I played with as a child.  

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Recently rebased and varnished 54mm Airfix German paratroops,  preserved from my childhood attempts at painting camouflage.
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An interesting Featherstone first for the History of Wargaming Project publications …

More commando raid type posts to come …

Blogposted by Mark Man of TIN January 2019 

11 thoughts on “Churchill’s Last Wartime Secret The 1943 German Raid Airbrushed From History – book review”

  1. There is a long and comprehensive review of the book at this link: http://www.pillbox.org.uk/blog/245381/

    TLDR: No real evidence for the raid at all, much less any reason for the government to cover it up.

    I agree with you that it’s inspiration for a scenario, though. Bruneval is covered with great detail by the man who inspired that raid – RV Jones in his memoir Wizard Wars: British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945.

    That said, I have that Featherstone book and did experiment with plastic WWII figures and the “beach raid” chapter, which is unfortunately vague on rules in that typical Featherstonian way, so it didn’t go too well.

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    1. Thank you for the link to the comprehensive review or rebuttal on the Pillbox website. Interesting. Having read this review and the book in full, in some ways, it does not matter to me if this IOW raid did or did not happen in reality. The possibility of such a scenario is the interesting bit from a gaming point of view.
      The radar information, Bruneval raid account etc are just interesting from a historical point of view.
      The Featherstone unpublished Commando book (by John Curry’s account of how the surviving parts was pieced back together) was always going to be a bit patchy, light or vague. Featherstone rules at the best of times are at best a start for your own rules to fill in any gaps. It is interesting to see what survived of the commando book. Equally the original wargaming airborne operations book publication was interfered with by the publisher, with possibly some more wargaming sections removed. It reads mostly as a reference book on military history.

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  2. Interesting book- I’m a sucker for a good conspiracy theory- not so much that I believe them but rather what they say about today and why they exist. I may well pick it up for that reason alone. Thanks for the review.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

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  3. Very interesting – not something I was aware of. Covert ops were certainly going on across the channel in occupied Europe so we should not be surprised if it happened the other way around perhaps. The Went the Day Well film immediately sprung to mind, though I haven’t seen it for many years.

    Interesting that the author feels the need to add a protective disclaimer “…does not seek to cast a critical shadow over Winston Churchill or impugn his qualities as a wartime leader.” He is a person over which discussion can be sensitive and emotive for some, as has been seen very recently – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-47233605

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    1. Went the Day Well? Sprung into my mind too, along with the Eagle Has Landed.

      Churchill has not always been so popular – Dardanelles, changing parties, Tonypandy, his unwelcome views on rearmament in the 1930s during his wilderness years.
      The book title is focussed on his claim that no hostile Germans set foot on British soil, Channel Islands excepted. Excluding aerial bombing …
      Placing Churchill, Hitler, the word secret or last, Nazis on the cover, a swastika or Spitfire, all good for selling history books.
      PS No money changed hands – I got this book from the library.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have had a look at the book in The Works and was tempted. I think Went the Day Well would give a good game.
    Do you know Passport to Pimlico ? I think it could be used as a background for some interesting games. The Airfix commandos were some of my favourite figures as a boy I really like the kayak.

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    1. I love Ealing films and have a few on DVD, but not the wonderful Passport to Pimlico. As you say there’s an Imaginations / Very British Civil War scenario there somewhere.
      The Airfix commandos (first version) are great little figures in themselves, which I like more than the second edition scaled down version of the 1:32 figures. The rifle equipped ones in OOHO convert well to ACW Zouaves alongside the WW2 Japanese infantry. As you say, ladders, equipment, detonators and kayaks just added to the gaming possibilities. The Matchbox British commandos in both scales were quite good too.

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  5. Hi,
    I enjoyed your blog and found it today when searching google on the subject matter of the raid. I read the book when first published and visited the site as I was staying but a very short distance from Woody Bay. I now live within 15 minute walk of the radar station. I think there is a missing link or convincing reason to raid that Mr Searle and others who have commented on the subject, all seem t9 have missed. The link between Uboat Warfare, there sudden losses in May 1943, 271 and centrimetric radars……?
    I’m currently planning to base a small skirmish game on the raid and will be making scenery and some miniatures in 20mm scale for the purpose. Happy to discuss further by email or here should you wish too?
    Exploits of my visit are noted on my website if your interested, but not all that was discovered is covered there?
    Cheers
    Paul T@EWM

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    1. Hello Paul @EWM
      Glad you enjoyed the book review, I found it a fascinating book for suggesting skirmish scenarios, even if it did not quite happen as outlined, it does not matter.

      Finding the spent cases must have been exhilarating, although to the conspiracy theorists, any convincing evidence would be your word against theirs and people would believe that such items were obviously a ‘plant’. I look forward to reading on your blog about your further finds.
      When I was a child, my Dad hired a metal detector for a week in the late 1970s and we found unspent 303 blanks in the woods and grasslands behind our house, probably from Army or Home Guard training exercises. There were also overgrown tree markings with signals regiment flags graffiti, dated, which would now be illegible. My late Dad being an ex National Serviceman, we were firmly discouraged from trying to fire or deconstruct the 303 cartridges. Sadly no convincing metal turned up from the V1 crater nearby.
      We had several happy childhood holidays on the IOW, to me it is still a bit of a magical place that I have not been back to in 40 years.
      Anyway, the radar raid on France (Bruneval) or the IOW radar station one is a great scenario, especially for using small commando forces, Home Guard etc. I look forward to reading your scenario build up and am curious to see what figures you will be producing or converting for this game.
      I have looked at the EWM ranges on many occasions, as I like 20mm as a scale to complement my Airfix OOHO figures as Jacklex does. However I have usually been very disciplined and gone away thinking that the last thing I need is a new range, already running out of cash and storage. I currently having a battered 54mm toy soldier collection to repair for gaming, more 32mm Pound Store figures to convert, the Scouting Wide Games project underway, vanished 15mm Peter Laing figures to track down and many more of these to paint, a box of WW1 flats that need work, vintage home cast moulds that need to be cast … it’s partly the joy or problem of running skirmish games is that you only really need the equivalent of less than two boxes of Airfix and you are away!
      Very happy to keep in contact via this blog.

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      1. Hi and thanks for the rapid reply. An enjoyable read and the name Jackalex. I had the pleasure of meeting Jack Alexander several years ago at a wargaming convention. He bought some of my early ww1 trench models and we had a great conversation. His ranges were outstanding for the time and hold up well even now. Peter Laing figures, another blast from the past. I too still have some of those figures, 1914 WW1 painted when I was still young and before I started sculpting my own figures, first time around!
        Yes, the finds and the visit were both exciting and heart stopping, at first I thought I had found Adrian Searle “smoking gun” evidence. Alas, they turned out to be Springfield rifle rounds. When discussing this adventure with an ex army Colonel, they again took on a degree of relevance. Home guard issued, and their location. You see he told me, home guard issue rounds had to be accounted for. If you fired them, you dam well picked up the cartridges and returned them with a dam good reason for firing them……..I had not thought of that.
        On my adventure, when I approached the site from the beach, you are presented with 2 covered approach options. I headed down the most obvious one and ran straight into the haul as described. The main point about the location is you can only see the entry point from the beach, not the sea and you are blind to the radar station. No other option of direction seem possible from where they were found. Clearly 10 rounds rapid we’re discharged as the pile of 10 cartridges suggests, but at what? Only really the exit towards the beach at targets either approaching or retreating.
        We did record on video the “extraction” …..a great adventure what ever the outcome.
        The figures, well I shall be converting existing figures from the EWM ranges with some new ones where required. Assault boats will need rowers and possibly a Uboat 3rd officer as the beach commanders, as described in the book? Will be making some scenic accessories as well, the send and receive bunkers not covered in earth, some 2/3 man entrenchment, one nice one still survives on the cliff edge.
        Radar towers are from Sarissa. Still lots more to do, but an exciting project and future game in the making. O, and using Chain of Command rules from Too Fat Lardies………
        Cheers

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