REVIEW – Scholars of Mayhem: my father’s secret war in Nazi-occupied France

2 mins read
SCHOLARS OF MAYHEM: MY FATHER’S SECRET WAR IN NAZI-OCCUPIED FRANCE Daniel C Guiet and Timothy K Smith Penguin, £20 (hbk) ISBN 978-0735225206
Daniel C Guiet and Timothy K Smith
Penguin, £20 (hbk)
ISBN 978-0735225206

Growing up, Daniel Guiet was curious about a large tin bread-box that had accompanied his family’s many moves.

Upon opening it, he discovered documents, maps, fighting knives, a garrotte, and a .45 calibre automatic pistol. It was an amazing collection of military ephemera that would lead him on an unusual quest – to uncover the remarkable story about his father, Jean Claude Guiet, whose exploits as a young man serving in the Special Operations Directorate had involved parachuting into Nazi-occupied France in 1944.

The son of two expatriate French language professors at Smith College, Jean Claude Guiet and his brother Pierre had had an unusual childhood, frequently visiting relatives in France. They had only just escaped the German takeover in 1940, fleeing via Lisbon to their New England home.

In early 1943, while at Harvard, Jean Claude was drafted into the Army. He was surprised to find life there more to his taste than he had anticipated, and that his fluent French marked him out for special service.

An accomplished veteran of the First World War, Brigadier-General William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, working in conjunction with British Naval Intelligence officer Ian Fleming, had established the Office of Special Services. This organisation paralleled Great Britain’s Special Operations Executive, and both were intended to use intelligence to sabotage Nazi operations in Europe.

This was the work for which Guiet had been recruited. It was only when he reported for training that he discovered that his brother Pierre had also been recruited by the OSS, although the pair would pretend not to know each other.

After extensive preparation in the United States, both men underwent further training in England with the British SOE. At this point, the brothers’ paths diverged, and they would not meet again until the end of the war.

With his language skills and an affinity for codes and ciphers, Jean Claude found himself assigned to one of the legendary ‘Jedburg’ teams and dispatched into occupied France on the evening of 7 June 1944.

Designated as part of Operation Salesman II, with Jean Claude serving as ‘radio operator’ along with teammates Philippe Liewier (‘organiser’), Violette Szabo (‘courier’), and Bob Malobier (‘saboteur’), he was parachuted into the Sussac region of France, east of Limoges.

Here, the team linked up with maquisards of the French Resistance and began their job of organising guerrilla operations against the Germans. Their activities included coordinating with disparate partisan bands, blowing up rail lines, and receiving and distributing large quantities of air-dropped weapons and munitions. It was nerve-wracking and hazardous work.

Reaching out to divergent maquisard teams north of Sussac, Philippe, Violette, and two partisan operatives foolishly used an automobile to cover the long distance, despite the Nazi order forbidding civilian use of motor cars.

Hitting a German roadblock, the group were quickly engaged in a desperate gun battle. Philippe and one of the maquisards escaped but one of their companions was killed. A wounded Violette was captured by the Nazis.

Although not a large volume, Scholars of Mayhem is a spellbinding account of the activities of a small portion of the vital clandestine network fielded by the OSS and SOE during the Second World War.

Nor does it end in 1945, for at least two of the lead actors in this drama continued working for their countries after the war – Jean Claude for the nascent CIA, Bob Malobier as a member of France’s equivalent SDECE.

While many of their activities remain unknown and uncelebrated, this book sheds light on a dangerous and shadowy realm. A fascinating account of a dangerous business, replete with some wonderful photographs and illustrations. It is highly recommended.

Review by Fred Chiaventone

This article was published in the October/November issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.