“The Clandestine Radio Operators” review

coverAfter seeing The Clandestine Radio Operators mentioned recently on Larry’s (W2LJ) blog I decided to order a copy as I know of no other book that covers this aspect of WW2 in such detail (there is at least one exception…more in a future post).

The photography in the book is very high quality. This is good because the bulk of each page’s real estate is dedicated to images rather than text. The photos are modern studio shots of old radios as well as original B&W photos taken during the war.

One thing stood out among the original photos – the radio operators and their equipment were almost always guarded. Either an armed soldier was pictured nearby or the radio’s position on the table or ground also included a weapon in the scene – M1 Garand, handgun or machine gun.

The ops back then were called “piano players” and they were prepared as best they could be for whatever problems might come their way in the form of DF vans from Abwehr, the German intel organization.

As the author in Wolves at the Door mentioned, of all types of spies operating in WW2, only the radio operators carried the gear of their trade with them. As a result their life expectancy was three months and 80% of them were killed during the war.

The Clandestine Radio Operators was written by Jean-Louis Perquin and I wish I could tell you that the English translation inset-up this book is flawless but that’s not the case. From two paragraphs on page 6:

  • “They knew of these all too often fatal odds longs (sic) before they were infiltrated…..”
  • “No mean achievement even when one is twenty year (sic) of age…..”
  • “…the entire mission would have been encarried (sic) out in vain.”

Some pages contain fewer grammatical mistakes; others, more.

Through the text and photos, the book did give me a feel for what day to day life might have been like for those who used the equipment described – operating temperamental tube equipment under adverse conditions. A few mini-biographies are also included in various chapters.

Descriptions of equipment include not just radios, but also steam and mechanical generators, coding techniques and training received by potential operators.

One ingenious yet simple gadget included with the radio gear was an adapter that allowed power for the radios to be taken from an ordinary lamp socket since these were more likely to be universal from country to country than a power outlet.

The book covers a lot of ground, but only lightly so, and I began to think of the text as simply very long captions for the photos. Not a lot of meat & not a lot of depth, each chapter left me wanting to know more about its given topic.

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My own re-creation, using modern "components"

Re-creation of a typical photo in the book, using my modern “components” ;-)

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  8 comments for ““The Clandestine Radio Operators” review

  1. Defendfreedom
    January 25, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    :-( The way things are going, it looks like We will all need a hidden radio, thanks to obama and his crooked friends, We will have to Defend Our Freedom 1/25/13

    • January 25, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      History does repeat itself, even (or perhaps especially) for those who think “it can’t happen to them”. If the Cuban or North Korean population had the right to bear arms they wouldn’t be in their current situation. Or the Jewish population in 1930’s Germany….no means with which to fight a tyrannical government has proven catastrophic – for millions.

      Those who have Netflix – consider watching Camp 14. North Koreans aren’t even living as human beings thanks to the oppression forced upon them.

  2. Elwood Downey, WB0OEW
    January 25, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    From my review on Amazon.com:

    This book is mostly old photos from WWII showing low power radio equipment, operators and the conditions under which they operated behind enemy lines. The captions and short commentary contain many typos or translation errors but the sense of urgency, danger, and inventiveness still comes through. This book can not be skimmed lightly, one must take the time to place one self into each photo setting and try to be there and feel the reality. Given this level of effort, this book effected me deeply. I learned a lot about the simple equipment, the high risks and the bravery of these men and women who provided critical intelligence back to war planners at great sacrifice. I would give it five stars if the editing was better.

    • January 25, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      That perfectly describes my impression as well. Elwood, did you by chance read Wolves at the Door? If not, I’d like to give/send you my copy – otherwise it’ll just sit on the shelf…

      • Elwood Downey, WB0OEW
        January 25, 2013 at 9:00 pm

        Thanks John, that’s very kind of you, but I like to build up my library so I tend not to borrow books. I will add that to my list, but I did recently read Agent Garbo (code name of Juan Pujol), another great spy in WWII.

        I also recently finished “Diary of a Pilot”, by Arch Doty, who flew air force supply lines through the Himalayas between India and China in WWII. I also read “Finish Forty and Home”, Phil Scearce, about WWII pacific bombers. I’m currently reading “A Lonely Kind of War”, by Marshall Harrison, another diary, this one by a forward air controller in Vietnam.

        The past few years for some reason I’ve just felt I owe so much to these ordinary people who did extraordinary things for us that I owe them my time to learn who they were and what they did and went through.

        • January 25, 2013 at 9:52 pm

          I read a book on Pujol recently (the one by Talty) – it’s a shame he’s not more widely known, given what he accomplished.

          You should put No Empty Chairs on your list too (WW1, not WW2). I read it a few months ago and still sometimes think about some of the events mentioned in it.

  3. Alan Dove
    February 4, 2013 at 7:09 am

    I may have to pick up a copy of this book. My stepfather was an Army Ranger radioman in the ’60s (Bay of Pigs), and one of his stories might shine some light on the ubiquitous presence of weapons in these photos. He was the only enlisted man in his unit to be issued a .45 pistol in addition to his rifle. When he asked why, he was told that the radioman knows all of the codes. His rifle was for the enemy. His pistol was for him. That taught him to stop asking “why” questions in the Army.

    • February 4, 2013 at 7:28 am

      The radio operators were also provided with their own way out of capture. I’m currently reading “Between Silk and Cyanide” – silk refers to the material the encoding info was printed onto and the cyanide was their way out if it came to that.

      This book will probably go more toward answering your questions than “The Clandestine Radio Operators”.

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