Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
The Spies of Winter
The GCHQ Codebreakers who fought the Cold War
Sinclair Mackay Aurum Press, 2017
This is a sequel to Mackay’s successful The Secret Life of Bletchley Park, and follows many of the same cast as they readjust to the security climate of post-war Britain. In particular it is interesting to read of Alan Turing’s career, before it all fell apart; and he sets out the dismaying story of the degree of anti-Semitism which pervaded Europe in that era.
There is no doubting the author’s love of the English language and his seemingly authoritative style. But it is often too florid, Plumstead is not just Plumstead but “the marshy South East London suburb of Plumstead” – marshy?! We learn that “On Forest Moor in Yorkshire” (better known to the rest of the world as Menwith Hill) “as the shrewd winds scoured the rough grass and the firs…” – “shrewd winds”??? And a final example: on more than one occasion intelligence-gathering flights “swoop” – no they do not – photo reconnaissance flights and indeed ELINT ones would typically fly high, out of harm’s way. Once the reader becomes aware of such tendency to florid prose they may become a little irritated.
Clearly with this subject, raw material may be a little lacking, and one senses that, as the timescale nears the present , archives become very arid. Mackay partly masks this by extensive exposition of the political environment. But at times it would seem his research is a little imaginative: during Russia’s attempted starvation of Berlin in 1948-9, we read that the Allies “parachuted” supplies into the beleaguered city. I think not, they came via the more reliable route of an airlift into Tegel airport.
So overall a confident, but flawed, exposition of an interesting topic.