Covert Radio Agents, 1939–1945 written by David Hebditch and published by Pen & Sword Books – £25 – Hardback – Pages 320

Clandestine radio operators had one of the most dangerous jobs of World War 2. Those in Nazi-occupied Europe for the SOE, MI6 and the OSS had a life-expectancy of just six weeks. In the Gilbert Islands the Japanese decapitated 17 New Zealand ‘Coastwatchers’.

These ‘behind the lines’ highly skilled agents’ main tasks were to maintain regular contact with their home base and pass vital intelligence back. As this meticulously researched book reveals, many operators did more than that. Norwegian Odd Starheim hi-jacked a ship and sailed it to the Shetlands. In the Solomon Islands Jack Read and Paul Mason warned the defenders of Guadalcanal about incoming enemy air raids giving American fighters a chance to inflict irreversible damage on the Japanese Air Force. In 1944 Arthur Brown was central to Operation Jedburgh’s success delaying the arrival of the SS Das Reich armoured division at the Normandy beach-heads. The author also explains in layman’s terms the technology of 1940s radios and the ingenious codes used.

Most importantly, Covert Radio Agents tells the dramatic human stories of these gallant behind-the-lines radio agents. Who were they? How were they trained? How did they survive against the odds? This is both a highly informative and uplifting work about unsung heroes.

This book was really enjoyable and informative, I learned so much from it. Right from the beginning, these men and women are like the forgotten few and they had such a dramatic and vital role in how the future of the war played out. The bravery needed was immense, it was such a cloak and dagger operation for each person put behind the lines. Also to think that the life expectancy of radio operators was about 6 weeks, really shows how dangerous things used to be for them. The book is well written in that it very much informed the reader, but it was easy to read in layman’s terms. Sometimes these types of books can be complex, complicated and detailed but this book was easy to read and understand. I would certainly recommend this book to others who enjoy the spying and communications game. I must admit I used some of the information I learned in this book to help teach the Navigator Youth group I run on a night about communications.