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Posted on Dec 1, 2006 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Operation Jedburgh – Book Review

By Rick Baillergeon

jedburgh.jpgBook Review: Operation Jedburgh: D-Day and America’s First Shadow War
Colin Beavan,Viking Press, 2006

Personally, one of the most interesting aspects concerning a book is the idea that motivated the author to write it. For Colin Beavan, the impetus for Operation Jedburgh began with the author’s obsession in finding out more about his grandfather’s (Gerry Miller) secretive career. This obsession led to discovering that his grandfather retired in the 1960s as one of the top men in the CIA and had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Most intriguing to Beavan in his research was discovering his grandfather led the U.S effort in a covert project called Operation Jedburgh. This piece of knowledge so fascinated Beavan that his obsession extended into learning all he could about Operation Jedburgh. This thirst for knowledge became the spark for Operation Jedburgh.


Before reviewing the overall merits of the book, I believe it is necessary to give a quick background on Operation Jedburgh and the Soldiers who served on this mission. During the planning of D-Day, Allied leadership determined a more effective underground Resistance network was needed in France. In theory, this network would conduct clandestine operations against the Germans during the landings and the subsequent thrust into France and Germany. Simply put, they would cause havoc and force the Germans to focus resources on the resistance versus the conventional forces.

To conduct these operations, three hundred American, British, and France Soldiers (all volunteers) were chosen after a demanding selection process. Many of these Soldiers were dropped into various locations before D-Day to train the French Resistance in preparation for the operation. At the initiation of D-day, the French Resistance with the tremendous assistance of the “Jedburghs” began conducting various missions against German targets. These missions included executing ambushes against troop columns, cutting rail lines, demolishing logistical facilities, and blowing bridges. In total, they confused the Germans and forced them to delay or even cancel dozens of their own missions.

In examining Operation Jedburgh, there is much to like about Beavan’s volume. First, it is highly readable copy. The author possesses the knack to keep the reader engaged. Beavan is able to do this by making his book part informative and part war story. Throughout the pages, he interweaves the information he wants to share with his readers with exciting vignettes of the Jedburghs in action. It is a combination that keeps the pages turning.

Beavan provides the reader a comprehensive examination of the operation from start to finish. The early chapters of the book focus on the inception of the organization, the selection process and training of the team members, and how Eisenhower and senior military leaders envisioned utilizing the Jedburghs from D-Day and beyond. Certainly, readers could not ask for a better introduction. This introduction sets the conditions for the remainder of the book, which details the exploits of the Jedburghs. Beavan utilizes first hand accounts that truly bring the pages to life. Throughout this section, he provides readers an excellent overview as to how the Jedburgh actions related to the actions by the conventional forces.

Beavan makes excellent use of a wide variety of sources. These include: declassified American documents of the operation, British reports which were recently declassified in 2002 and numerous unpublished and privately published manuscripts, letters, and diaries. He additionally extensively interviewed over 30 members of the Jedburghs (American, British and French). These first hand accounts add significantly to all facets of the book. Most importantly, Beavan is able to blend these sources so that they compliment one another.

I believe the biggest strength of the book is Beavan’s ability to personalize the book. He does this in several ways. First, during the introductory chapters of the volume Beavan crafts excellent thumbnail biographies of the Jedburghs (including former CIA director William Colby, founder of the Green Berets Aaron Banks, and the legendary Soldier Jack Singlaub) he discusses in the remaining pages. He includes information on their families, their lives prior to volunteering for the Jedburghs, and their motivations for volunteering. Second, Beavan includes dozens of personal photographs of the Jedburghs in two extensive photograph sections in the book. For me, putting a face to a name is an excellent feature in books of this genre.

Every time you think that there is no subject regarding World War II that has not been exhaustively covered in literature, along comes a book like Operation Jedburgh. Beavan has authored one of those books that informs as well as entertains. There are some readers who may question the author’s insistence on the instrumental rule the Jedburgh’s played in the Allied success. However, I believe those same readers will graciously admit that Operation Jedburgh was well worth their valuable reading time.

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