Ian Fleming’s Commandos

Title:                      Ian Fleming’s Commandos

Author:                 Nicholas Rankin

Rankin, Nicholas (2011). Ian Fleming’s Commandos: The Story of The Legendary 30 Assault Unit. New York: Oxford University Press

LCCN:    2011024981

D810.S7 R37 2011


Date Posted:      February 26, 2016

Reviewed by Hayden Peake.[1]

The 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group at the Royal Marine Barracks, Stonehouse, Plymouth, has a history beginning in 1942, when it was formed as an “Intelligence Assault Unit.” It subsequently was called 30 Commando and, in 1943, was designated as the 30 Assault Unit, or 30AU. (p. 330) The idea for the unit appeared in a Most Secret memo titled “Proposal for Naval Intelligence Commando Unit” and signed by Ian Fleming. (p. 131) By the time of its creation in July 1942, it had become a joint service element, though it was headquartered within the Admiralty. (p. 222) The IAU first saw action in the disastrous raid on Dieppe on 19 August 1942. Ian Fleming’s Commandos tells how Fleming conceived the idea and describes some of the unit’s operations.

Before the war, Ian Fleming had been a journalist and completed an assignment for the Times in Moscow.

In May 1939, he was invited to lunch with Adm. John Godfrey, the director of naval intelligence, who was seeking to augment his staff with bright young men. Godfrey liked what he saw in Fleming—who was fluent in German and French and spoke some Russian—and offered him a spot on his staff. Thus began Fleming’s six-year tour in naval intelligence and the adventures that laid the groundwork for the James Bond books.

Author Nicholas Rankin provides historical background to the creation of 30AU, reviews the formation of Britain’s intelligence assault units, and discusses the bureaucratic conflicts that Fleming learned to navigate so well. He also tells of Fleming’s contacts with Bletchley Park and his trips to France, Spain, countries in Africa, and the United States. It soon became clear to Fleming, Rankin argues, that much-needed intelligence could be acquired if units were specially designed for the purpose. The concept was to have those units land with invading troops and go directly to the nearest captured German headquarters and communication elements and confiscate records. One of the first attempts at such a mission occurred during Operation TORCH in North Africa. There, 30AU had mixed results. Its participation in the Sicily landings was more successful, as were its operations in Italy. 30AU was a part of Operation OVERLORD, and Rankin describes the difficulties the unit experienced going after a radar control station in France. He also discusses the difficulties 30AU faced in targeting V-1 sites as part of Operation CROSSBOW.

Rankin provides glimpses into how some 30AU personnel felt about Fleming. In one case, a colleague is quoted as saying Fleming “always loved hearing about things-sex, war, personalities, danger-from other people, but shied away from experiencing it himself.” (p. 223)

In a second example, Lt. Cmdr. Tony Hugill wrote in his 1946 book—citing an episode in which Fleming had arrived in France in July 1945, wearing his dress uniform, to see how the force was doing-that “none of us liked him very much. He was one of those very superior professional RNVRs [Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve] who got their claws into Their Lordships early in the war.”[2] (p. 246)

Throughout Ian Fleming’s Commandos, there are references to incidents and names that later appeared in the Bond books. Enthusiasts of 007 should enjoy these bits of Bond trivia, and fans of WW II special operations will find it most interesting for the ground-work 30AU laid for postwar special operations units.

[1] Hayden Peake is a frequent reviewer of books on intelligence and this review appeared in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (19, 1, Winter/Spring, 2013, pp. 110-120). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Di recto rate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found on line at http://www.cia.gov.

[2] Hugill, J. A. C. (1946). The Hazard Mesh. London, New York: Hurst and Blackett ltd. [LCCN: 47016834], p. 31.

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