“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.
Craig Rullman says
Timely. Im reading it right now. Delightful. Some great stuff.
Outstanding. That podcast is worth the time. Lewis is a cool dude.
I have a sneaky feeling that Western Europe conventional warfare was nastier than people like to pretend.
Special Operation Units seem to collect…eccentric individuals that don’t necessarily work in the conventional military.
Oh, absolutely. Industrialized warfare is horrific; the vestigial protocols of limited warfare and the laws of armed conflict can’t obviate the sheer destructiveness of it all. But the protocols were real, nonetheless — they type of behavior depicted between General Montcalm and Colonel Munro in Last of the Mohicans was still considered proper for professional military men in the 20th century.
Churchill had a piratical streak to him that delighted in the unconventional and the darker arts of war. He reveled in sending out the eccentric mavericks to wreak havoc in ungentlemanly ways…
Geoff Miller says
See Vladimir Peniakoff (“Popski’s Private Army”) for one such individual.
Thanks, I had not heard of him.
Thom Eley says
Oh, I’ve read it and it is great. Semper Fi to all you veterans, and remember those who didn’t make it home.
Off topic, but here’s a video about the Wends who I never heard of. They were sea pirates who raided the Vikings. They also carried cavalry units on their ships. The video is about 16 minutes long.
There is also apparently a settlement of Wends in Texas
lane batot says
“WE are NOT pirates, we are PRIVATEERS!” Ha! Looks like a good’un–I’ll keep mah eyes peeled for it. So what yer saying, in essence, is that “The Dirty Dozen” were REAL!…… I wonder if any of these “butcher-and-bolt” fellows ever studied Apache tactics…….
Gary Worth says
If you liked watching John Krasinski, Tom Clancy’s CIA agent Jack Ryan, and are looking forward to seeing the final season or even Henry Cavill in Winston Churchill’s Ministry for Ungentlemanly Warfare, read about a real ungentlemanly spy on the run. His name is Bill Fairclough (MI6 Codename JJ) aka Edward Burlington. In real life Bill Fairclough was recruited by Colonel Alan Pemberton CVO MBE (MI6). Pemberton’s People in MI6 were genuine ungentlemanly heroes and even included self-confessed silent killers and Churchill’s bodyguard. For more about them do see the News Article dated 31 October 2022 in TheBurlingtonFiles website. It’s called Pemberton’s People, Ungentlemanly Officers & Rogue Heroes. By the way, Bill Fairclough is the protagonist in the factual stand-alone spy thriller Beyond Enkription, the first novel to be published in TheBurlingtonFiles series.
Thanks for this Gary.
SQUIRE RUSTICUS says
I wished they had made many more movies, allowed many of the once secret missions to come to light long before now. Let the people that were there tell what could be told. Instead we are offered the sanitized versions, changed for dramatic effect by screen writers.
As I’ve mentioned before my Grandfather was an OSS JEDBURGH Lucien Conein (Team MARK) South of France.
I believe after he’d finished OSS training at where Camp David is today, and British Commando Training in the Highlands of Scotland, some SOE Trainers at Milton’s Hall wished to wash him out of OSS training program as he “seemed bored” (he’d already fought the Germans for a year in France, and been a prisoner of war under the French military) that he was not a “Gentleman” as British Special Operations (SOE) envisioned. Ofcourse Fairbain whom taught knife fighting, point shooting, hand to hand at the “House of Horrors” wasn’t either, “,Thank God”!!!
Lou ended up doing a good enough job that he was sent to Indochina and China, leading a raid on the Japanese Headquarters at Lang Son, his commandos later saving 2,000 French and Corsican citizens from being killed by Ho’s Communist in Hanoi, volunteering to parachute down and see if the Japanese in Hanoi were willing to surrender before the two plane loads of dignitaries would land at Hanoi’s Airfield.
Ho Chi Minhs North Vietnamese Intelligence and Operators were very good, OSS taught them.
Half of his records with OSS are not scheduled for release for like another 50 years.
Many of the Jedburghs I met, got to know as a young man, CIA paramilitaries, Cuban, Africa, Soth America, Vietnam hands, at my grandparents house at McLean, were eccentric, men of action, hard drinkers, sometimes rogues. Those are the kind of men that got things done under . Unconventional warfare, insurgency, counter insurgency, anti-terrorism , counter revolutionary warfare, black operations, black propaganda, spying, intelligence gathering, takes a special type of person, as we would all agree.
TO AN EARLIER POST:
The Dirty Dozen type of operation was done over and over and over with our military and Special Operations.
Lou, Jack Singlaud, Mitch Warbell, Howard Hunt, Paul Haliwell, etc… in China with OSS pulled missions still secret today.
All your really going to find is that they were paid in 5 lb. Bags of Opium (it was the only thing that kept value).
Thank you for sharing this. What a heritage.
Quixotic Mainer says
Henry’s mustache has at least 10 confirmed kills on it’s own!