Book Review: Ian Fleming and SOE's Operation POSTMASTER: The Untold Top Secret Story


by Brian Lett

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2020. Pp. xiii, 256+. Illus., maps, appends., biblio., index. $26.95 paper. ISBN: 1526760681

How Ian Fleming Swiped Three Axis Ships from a Neutral Port

Lett, who has written extensively in British military history, with a particular bent for special operations, has produced a detailed account of one most unusual and successful missions of the Special Operations Executive. On the night of 14-15 January, 1942, two small British vessels, manned by SOE operatives, volunteers from the Nigerian Civil Service, and a few others, “cut out” three Axis vessels sheltering in the neutral Spanish port of Santa Isabel, on the island of Fernando Poo, in today’s Equatorial Guinea, took them out to sea, and turned them over to the Royal Navy, all without a shot being fired.

Lett devotes the bulk of the book to the inception and planning of the mission, in which Ian Fleming had an important role, takes us through the recruiting of key personnel, most of whom are given thorough profiles, the selection of appropriate ships and equipment, training, intelligence gathering (with some nail biting bits), cover and deception activities, a little black mail, and more.

After a rough approach voyage to Santa Isabel, the capture of the vessels – an Italian cargo liner and a German ocean tug and yacht – and sortie from the port took perhaps 90 minutes, which Lett covers well in about two dozen pages. He then follows the escape voyage to a rendezvous with a Royal Navy ship, which was punctuated by some almost amusing miscues.

Throughout the book, Lett takes note of persons and incidents which appear to have strongly influenced people and events in Fleming’s James Bond novels.

Originally published nearly a decade ago, Ian Fleming and SOE’s Operation POSTMASTER is a rather detailed, readable, and often amusing look at a remarkable mission, and offers some valuable insights not only into special operations but also the mind and method of one of the most successful authors of the mid-twentieth century.


Note: Ian Fleming and SOE’s Operation POSTMASTER is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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