Friday, November 13, 2015

Review of T-Force by Sean Longden (Constable, 2010)

In T-Force Sean Longden tells the story of the Allied forces strategy for capturing intelligence as field troops advanced.  Conceived by Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond books, which it is argued in the book were modelled on some of the exploits of T-Force and its personnel) in his role with the Admirality, the force was initially formed as an elite group who would advance with, or often in front of, frontline troops, with a roving brief to capture and secure key targets and to ship out key intelligence documents.  The force first served in North Africa and Italy as small, mobile elite.  It’s role from D-Day on however was much expanded, with it being staff by regular troops who were often rotated out of frontline duties.  They still advanced with the battles and had license to roam from target to target, but their focus shifted to include military and industrial research, and to determine how much of this had been shared with the Japanese.  In particular, as the Allies entered Germany, the Allies rushed to secure key facilities and their secrets.  In the last days of the war this included trying to secure key locations such Kiel, a key German navy base and maritime research centre, ahead of the Russians.  In the months after surrender, T-Force raced to capture industrial and military materials and scientific personnel, in part for war repatriations, to gain key knowledge, and to stop the Russians gathering up key researchers.  In many cases this involved trips into Russian occupied areas to snatch scientists and their families.  This work continued for a couple of years before being wound down.

As Longden argues T-Forces role and its valuable work has been mostly airbrushed from history, in part because a lot of its work was classified (and some still remains so), in part because the force was quite internally fractured.  In the few accounts that do discuss its work, there is a lot of misconception and misreporting.  His aim then was to provide a more thorough and overarching history of T-Force, drawing on archival sources and interviews with a handful of remaining personnel.  The result is a fascinating tale, that is a little uneven in its treatment, is often quite sketchy, and overly relies on personal testimony from a small group.  It also suffers from some repetition and in the conclusion in particular speculation.  Nonetheless, the book provides a good overview of T-Force, especially in the immediate post-war era, and Longden fulfils his aim. 

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