“Ungentlemanly Warfare” is an excellent way to describe Frontier Partisans action. Just ask the likes of Timothy Murphy or The Great Rascal Benjamin Whitcomb. Fighting dirty is a specialty of the Frontier Partisans. Western European conventional warfare is supposed to be more gentlemanly, at least in theory. By the desperate days of World War II, however, niceties were no longer to be observed. What was called for was a parcel of rogues to “set Europe ablaze,” to use Winston Churchill’s evocative phrase. Or, more pungently, to conduct “butcher and bolt” raids.
A few years back, the estimable Damien Lewis, war correspondent turned writer of World War II histories, turned out the book, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: How Churchill’s Secret Warriors Set Europe Ablaze and Gave Birth to Modern Black Ops. Lewis is quite a feller, and worth spending time with, as Jack Carr discovered in his Danger Close Podcast.
Here’s the caper:
From the award-winning historian, war reporter, and author Damien Lewis (Zero Six Bravo, Judy) comes the incredible true story of the top-secret “butcher-and-bolt” black ops units Prime Minister Winston Churchill tasked with stopping the unstoppable German war machine. Criminals, rogues, and survivalists, the brutal tactics and grit of these “deniables” would define a military unit the likes of which the world had never seen.
When France fell to the Nazis in 1940, Churchill declared that Britain would resist the advance of the German army — alone if necessary. Churchill commanded the Special Operations Executive to secretly develop of a very special kind of military unit that would operate on their own initiative deep behind enemy lines. The units would be licensed to kill, fully deniable by the British government, and a ruthless force to meet the advancing Germans.
The very first of these “butcher-and-bolt” units — the innocuously named Maid Honour Force — was led by Gus March-Phillipps, a wild British eccentric of high birth, and an aristocratic, handsome, and bloodthirsty young Danish warrior, Anders Lassen. Amped up on amphetamines, these assorted renegades and sociopaths undertook the very first of Churchill’s special operations–a top-secret, high-stakes mission to seize Nazi shipping in the far-distant port of Fernando Po, in West Africa.
Though few of these early desperadoes survived WWII, they took part in a series of fascinating, daring missions that changed the course of the war. It was the first stirrings of the modern special-ops team, and all of the men involved would be declared war heroes when it was all over.
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare focuses on a dozen of these extraordinary men, weaving their stories of brotherhood, comradely, and elite soldiering into a gripping narrative yarn, from the earliest missions to Anders Larssen’s tragic death, just weeks before the end of the war.
This is being made into a movie starring Henry Cavill, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and written and directed by Guy Ritchie. This has to be the best wedding of material to personnel one could hope for. I really enjoyed The Covenant, and loved Ritchie’s Baritsu-besotted non-canonical take on Sherlock Holmes. Cavill deserves a good story after the debacle that was his dream role in The Witcher (Cavill reportedly couldn’t stomach the way the writers mangled the source material, and he walked). The only other person I’d want to see involved in this project would be Steven Knight, and he’s already busy in this particular minefield with Rogue Heroes.
The movie also features Alan Ritchson (Reacher) who is my casting choice for Simon Kenton when somebody finally wises up and realizes that Eckert’s The Frontiersmen needs to be made into an epic limited series.
We won’t see this until 2024. That’s OK — we’ll need a fine yarn of heroic rogues and rascals in the midst of the clown show/dumpster fire that election year is bound to be.