After 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 in 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.