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2 Burnside Military- Espionage

Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War 1941-1945


Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War 1941-1945 Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In 1942, with a black-market chicken tucked under his arm by his mother, Leo Marks left his father's famous bookshop, 84 Charing Cross Road, and went off to fight the war. He was twenty-two. Soon recognized as a cryptographer of genius, he became head of communications at the Special Operations Executive (SOE), where he revolutionized the codemaking techniques of the Allies and trained some of the most famous agents dropped into occupied Europe. As a top codemaker, Marks had a unique perspective on one of the most fascinating and, until now, little-known aspects of the Second World War. This stunning memoir, often funny, always gripping and acutely sensitive to the human cost of each operation, provides a unique inside picture of the extraordinary SOE organization at work and reveals for the first time many unknown truths about the conduct of the war.

SOE was created in July 1940 with a mandate from Winston Churchill to "set Europe ablaze." Its main function was to infiltrate agents into enemy-occupied territory to perform acts of sabotage and form secret armies in preparation for D-Day. Marks's ingenious codemaking innovation was to devise and implement a system of random numeric codes printed on silk. Camouflaged as handkerchiefs, underwear, or coat linings, these codes could be destroyed message by message, and therefore could not possibly be remembered by the agents, even under torture.

Between Silk and Cyanide chronicles Marks's obsessive quest to improve the security of agents' codes and how this crusade led to his involvement in some of the war's most dramatic and secret operations. Among the astonishing revelations is his account of the code war between SOE and the Germans in Holland. He also reveals for the first time how SOE fooled the Germans into thinking that a secret army was operating in the Fatherland itself, and how and why he broke the code that General de Gaulle insisted be available only to the Free French. By the end of this incredible tale, truly one of the last great World War II memoirs, it is clear why General Eisenhower credited the SOE, particularly its communications department, with shortening the war by three months. From the difficulties of safeguarding the messages that led to the destruction of the atomic weapons plant at Rjukan in Norway to the surveillance of Hitler's long-range missile base at Peenemünde to the true extent of Nazi infiltration of Allied agents, Between Silk and Cyanide sheds light on one of the least-known but most dramatic aspects of the war.

Writing with the narrative flair and vivid characterization of his famous screenplays, Marks gives free rein to his keen sense of the absurd and wry wit without ever losing touch with the very human side of the story. His close relationship with "the White Rabbit" and Violette Szabo — two of the greatest British agents of the war — and his accounts of the many others he dealt with result in a thrilling and poignant memoir that celebrates individual courage and endeavor, without losing sight of the human cost and horror of war.

About the Author

Leo Marks is renowned both as a cryptographer and as a screenwriter. His most famous work, Peeping Tom, a terrifying psychological thriller, is a cult classic of 1960s cinema, rereleased in 1999 under the auspices of Martin Scorsese. His father, Benjamin Marks, was the founder and owner of the legendary London bookshop 84 Charing Cross Road.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations
1 A Hard Man to Place
2 The Pilot Light
3 A Collector's Item
4 'Merde Alors!'
5 All Things Bright and Beautiful
6 The Fifth Grouse
7 SOE-minded
8 The Plumber and His Mate
9 The Godfather
10 The Sixth Sense
11 The High-Pitched Bleep
12 A Shock Discovery
13 The Biter Bitten
14 The Last-Chance Month
15 The Bolt Hole
16 A Question of Y
17 Arquebus, Gunnerside and Golf
18 The Coding Cabaret
19 Summit Meeting
20 The Findings of the Court
21 Repercussions
22 The Launching of Plan Giskes
23 Special Devices
24 Judgement Day
25 Permission to Proceed?
26 Court Martial
27 Criminal Negligence
28 Green Ink
29 Best Read at Night
30 The War Dance
31 Accidents Will Happen
32 Pilgrim's Progress
33 The 'Hard Men'
34 Judicial Review
35 The Masterstroke
36 Desperate Measures
37 Punitive Expedition
38 The Secret Weapon
39 Appointment with Royalty
40 The Extended Briefing
41 Operation Gift-horse
42 A Terrible Gaffe
43 Operation Sidetrack
44 Beyond Belief
45 Parallel Action
46 The Club Rules
47 Lake Como's Bottom
48 'I Hereby Bequeath'
49 A Treat for the Natives
50 Homecoming
51 Stranglehold
52 Man with a Mission
53 Breaking Point
54 Who Stole Your Grace?
55 The Forty-Eight Mistakes
56 Unique in SOE
57 The Major Development
58 'If I Should Die, Etcetera'
59 The Invisible Presence
60 Fumigated
61 A Mere Squadron Leader
62 Without Precedent
63 Open Arrest
64 Misgivings
65 'The Life that I Have'
66 April Fool's Day
67 The New Boys
68 Inexcusable
69 For Your Ears Only
70 Neptune's Trident
71 Staying Power
72 'They Also Serve'
73 Self-Defence
74 Taken for Granted
75 The Day of Reckoning
76 Pockets of Resistance
77 Operation Periwig
78 Serial Number 47685
79 For Services Rendered
80 Exemplary Conduct
81 The Last Mischief

Product Details

A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945
Marks, Leo
Free Press
New York, NY :
Great britain
Military - World War II
World war, 1939-1945
Military - Intelligence/Espionage
Secret service
Personal narratives, british
Cryptographers -- Great Britain -- Biography.
World War, 19
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9.25 x 6.125 in 32.032 oz

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Military » Espionage
History and Social Science » Military » World War II » Europe » General
History and Social Science » Military » World War II » General

Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War 1941-1945 Used Hardcover
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Product details 624 pages Free Press - English 9780684864228 Reviews:
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