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The Grand Prix Saboteurs: The Grand Prix Drivers Who Became British Secret Agents During World War II [Anglais] [Broché]

Joe Saward

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The Grand Prix Saboteurs James Bond meets Michael Schumacher The idea of racing drivers working as secret agents is at best far-fetched but The Grand Prix Saboteurs tells the amazing TRUE story of how three top Grand Prix drivers from the 1920s and 1930s worked for a clandestine British secret service in occupied France, during World War II. The product of 18 years of research, The Grand Prix Saboteurs tells a story that ... Full description

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Amazon.com: 4.4 étoiles sur 5  16 commentaires
11 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Thrills in Racing and Spying 13 juin 2007
Par R. Hardy - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
We are not in favor of terrorism, and we feel that for one state to sponsor international terrorism against another is among the highest of international crimes. Of course, state sponsored terrorism against Nazis, well, that's a little easier to defend; they were quite clearly the bad guys (let alone the losers). Perhaps because of the taint of terrorism, there were some special operations performed by Britain in World War II which are still officially kept secret. Joe Saward is a journalist who writes about Formula 1 racing and had written some reference books about motor sports, but he was up against the secrecy as he was doing research for his book _The Grand Prix Saboteurs: The Extraordinary Untold Story of the Grand Prix Drivers Who Became British Secret Agents in World War II_ (Morienval Press). Part of the reason for the continued secrecy may have been that the British government did not want to burden families with distressing stories of how the agents were found, tortured, or exterminated, but at the same time, the families did not get to hear about how heroically the agents had performed and what a difference they had made. Saward spent almost twenty years researching this book, and only in the past few years have secret records opened up enough for him to complete his story which concentrates on three racing drivers and their covert efforts behind the lines. It is an exciting story, and a reminder of the importance of espionage work by those who were not originally spies in overcoming Nazism.

There was indeed a prejudice against the newly recruited spies of the Special Operations Executive, but SOE was an idea of none other than Winston Churchill, who was not interested in doing things the usual way. He wanted secret agents sent to Europe to bomb, assassinate, and prepare for uprisings simultaneous with an invasion of Europe. William Grover had raced motorcycles and then automobiles, becoming a representative for the Bugatti firm, and winning the first Monaco Grand Prix in 1929. When he became an SOE agent, he looked for contacts, and among the men he trusted was a previous rival, Robert Benoist, the top French driver of the 1920s. He was a member of the Rothschild family and had served as a fighter pilot in World War One. He had won the 1937 Le Mans 24 Hours, and his co-driver was Jean-Pierre Wimille. Grover had distrusted Wimille's pre-war politics and had not contacted him to be an agent, but Benoist eventually did. The first part of Saward's book is devoted to motor racing before the war, a time when much of the equipment and many of the courses were so new that racing was a far more dangerous sport that it is today. When the war broke out, Grover joined the British army as a driver, but his skill with mechanics and his fluent French led to his recruitment by the SOE, which led to the eventual recruitment of the other two drivers. He was trained in obvious techniques concerning explosives, but also less obvious ones like the application of a stealth weapon developed by SOE, "abrasive grease" which could be applied to locomotives and cause their machinery to wear out prematurely. Trainees learned how to jump from moving trucks, and how to parachute.

There were different ways of getting into France, with parachuting being the least risky. Returning to Britain was harder, with secret flights out of France not from airfields but from ordinary fields, hazarded by horses and cows, who could not be shouted away because silence was needed. Within France, the agents were key in providing to the resistance arms and explosives often dropped by parachute, and organizing cells of resistance fighters. There was as much danger as they had faced on the racing track, because the Nazis had gotten good at intercepting and counterfeiting radio transmissions back to SOE in England, and were adept at watching the contacts the SOE members made. There was never a more deadly cat-and-mouse game, and both sides played well. The description of resistance life given here is exciting, and the extent of SOE efforts is admirable, as, of course, is the heroism of the former drivers. There was treachery, even from Benoist's brother and perhaps from SOE members previously regarded as heroes, and only one of the drivers profiled here survived the war and raced again. The harrowing ends for the others within concentration camps are sad indeed. The men were sports stars that everyone knew in Europe before the war. Their contributions to the war effort had to be kept secret long beyond their deaths. Saward's fine book has no flashy writing, but takes a mass of material from a confusing period and brings these forgotten heroes deserved recognition.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 What Price Glory? 8 novembre 2007
Par David Hebb - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Many years ago, as a post-graduate student at Bedford College, University of London, I often had lunch or tea with the History faculty and frequently heard the professor of French history, N. M. Sutherland, speak about a very clever student named "Joe" and learned that he was interested in motor racing. His full name is Joe Saward and his latest book brings together both interests.

The focus of the book is on "Williams", a Grand Prix driver of some significance in the 1920s, who became involved through the Special Operations Executive in Resistance activities in France during WW2 with the emphasis on his wartime activity and also upon those involved in the networks to which he belonged or with whom he worked. This book is thus much more of a history of Resistance activity than it is a book about motor racing, though not the worse for that, and it contributes to motor racing by showing that drivers and racing people are not one-dimensional but have lives that extend beyond racing, and some of them nobly so.

To me the most dispiriting aspect of Saward's very detailed account is how easily the networks were penetrated by the Gestapo and its French collaborators and also how totally inadequate security measures were among the Resistance/SOE networks. For example, quite inexcusably, radio operators were shared between networks thus insuring that when an operator was captured, as eventually almost always happened, and interrogated, more than one network would be eliminated in a single stroke. Saward also recounts how one Resistance member travelled with a written list of 200 agents on his person! He was caught by the Gestapo who then set about arresting all those on the list. As a result of these security blunders many former racing people were caught and killed by the Germans. All were brave and are to be admired, but I could not help concluding that much of what they undertook, pre-D-day, was of questionable value, especially the sabotage actions, given what it cost in lives. The acquisition of intelligence might have had some value, and would have been a better objective, but little was passed back to London that was of great significance. Saward does not really question, or question deeply enough, I think, whether what was undertaken was really worthwhile or worth the cost in human lives. In reading the book I could not find anything in the way of action that was significant; Europe was not set alight, as Churchill dreamed, but only a few small sparks set off. It seemed to me that the most important accomplishment of those involved in the SOE networks was not what they attempted in terms of sabotage, but that their commitment was testimony that not all of France would meekly give in to the Nazi/Vichy degradation. Get the book and see if you agree.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 More history than story. 30 décembre 2007
Par B. Burdette - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Is it a "bad" book? Not at all. The research and insight poured into this book is evident from start to finish. I was expecting more about the personal stories about these ex-racers and their wartime exploits, though. What Joe Saward gives us is more of a historical recounting of how these networks evolved and operated during the war. This is a book you will enjoy as a history buff, especially if you like to read about covert operations in WWII. It is not a light read though, and for me was not particularly entertaining to read.
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 5 Star Topic Hampered by 3 Star Editing 23 janvier 2008
Par S. Glynn - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Joe Saward has done a great job of researching this fascinating topic area and it shows. This book is filled with details and information about the various people, towns, and events that surrounded these WWII secret operations. Unfortunately these details along with some questionable editing decisions conspire to make this 5-star topic into a 4-star book.

The book is written much like a report, which is fine. But beware that it is a dense report full of names and locations, some of which are critical to remember and others not as much. I don't feel that the author did a good job making the distinction clear to the reader. To further confuse the reader the author alternates how he refers to the different characters - first name, last name, code name, under-cover name, etc... This would have been fine if there were just a handful of characters, but in this story there are dozens upon dozens of names. Some of the detail seems superfluous, as if the author has done a "brain dump" of everything he knows on the topic, without always stopping to think if it is relevant information for the reader to know. I also felt the writing could have used another round of review by the editor. I found myself stumbling over run-on sentences and awkward phrases (e.g., "John had had a bad day...") which are acceptable in day-to-day speaking, but do not read well. When I finished reading the book the other day I was left thinking to myself how much better the book could have been if only some of these flaws had been addressed.

Criticisms aside this is a truly fascinating topic area - pre-WWII Grand Prix champs turn secret spies. The vast majority of the book (I'd guess 75%+) is devoted to the spy activities of the drivers, but the author does a good job of describing their racing careers.

If you are a combined racing/history buff then I believe this book is worth a read.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 An engrossing read, despite need of reediting. 4 août 2008
Par Patrick Childs - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
I found this to be an engrossing read, in spite of the need of some reediting tweaks. As this book has only recently come out, after eighteen years or exhaustive research, it is understandable that much was missed in rushing it to print and surely will be cleaned up in subsequent reprints.

Regardless of editing flaws, and despite reading at times much like a numbingly detailed report and others almost like the work of Ken Follett, it remains always a most fascinating read. This book provides a unique insight into the British support in the recruitment and training of agents, as well as an examination of the activities and intrigues within the French resistance movement.

IMHO, this book should be included in every high school library, given the historical significance of the French resistance and the unique, often quite wealthy, individuals who paid the ultimate sacrifice for love of country.
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