WINSTON CHURCHILL’S TOYSHOP
The Inside Story of Military Intelligence (Research)
By Stuart Macrae
This book is the story of a remarkable unit created in the background to provide those clandestine devices that were needed to advance the weapons used for sabotage in continental Europe during World War II. The author, Colonel Robert Stuart Macrae, was one of the major participants in this organization. He and (ultimately) Major-General Millis Jeffris, created this group out of their own philosophies and those of like-minded men and inventors.
The organization defied the in-place regulations of the established Military Services. This created many problems for the Military Intelligence Research (MIR) in the acceptance of their devices for employment by the service personnel in the established services. Macrae enlisted the backing of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his Scientific Advisor Professor Lindemann. They interceded with the established Service hierarchy and circumvented regulations to incorporate these innovative devices into service inventories for use by the standard military organizations.
The author started out by working with C.V. Clarke on a device which came to be known as the “Limpet” mine. First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, requested such a device for the destruction of German merchant and naval ships. This was accomplished by the use of two Woolworth Mixing Bowls, explosive, some candy for a timer and the use of a condom to protect the timer before immersion (more details available in the book). This began the career of the organization called MIR.
After meeting with Millis Jeffris, the MIR organization became a reality. Their next projects involved the creation of various long and short delay timers for demolition charges used by overseas agents in the sabotage of German facilities and railroads.
The career of MIR was plagued with the pitfalls of a jealous Military establishment, the personal envy of various high ranking officers, and departments who felt that MIR was overstepping their bounds. Most of these were alleviated by the intercession of Professor Lindemann, affectionately known as “The Prof”.
I found this book to be enjoyable from the point of view of the trials and tribulations found in forming an organization which became essential to the Allied war effort in Europe. This group was responsible for inventions such as the “Sticky Bomb” and the PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank). This book fills in the history of World War II as to where such devices as time fuses, floating mines in the Rhine River and other various devices came from. I found this book difficult to put down and laughed quite heartily at various anecdotes in the re-telling of this group’s story, from its creation, to its “heyday”, to its acceptance as a Directorate in the scheme of things, to its demise after the war. I believe the reader will also find this a story worth reading. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read about “how things got done” during this period and not just “that they were done.”