Secret Weapons: Death Rays, Doodlebugs and Churchill's Golden Goose, Brian J. Ford

Secret Weapons: Death Rays, Doodlebugs and Churchill's Golden Goose, Brian J. Ford

This is a mix of popular science and history, looking at the secret weapons of the Second World War. Ford looks at the weapons themselves, the research that led to them, their effect on the war (if they had any) and the impact of the research on the post-war world. Of course all weapons were secret until they were used, but there is a clear category of unusually advanced or novel weapons that fit into the this book.

The choice of topics is interesting. The normal rockets, unusual aircraft, rockets, and code breakers are joined by secret medical research, the electronic war (included a good section on German navigational aids and British efforts to block them). The section on the nuclear bomb contains much that is familiar, but also has good material on other nuclear programmes, including the important Canadian efforts and the unsuccessful German and Japanese projects.

Away from Ford's area of expertise there are some mistakes. In the chapter on Pearl Harbor he claims that 'Further damage was done by scores of top-secret Japanese midget submarines that penetrated deep inside the port'. In fact only five midget submarines were deployed, and all five were lost without inflicting any damage on the US fleet. In the section on rocketry he states that the British had no interest in offensive rockets, when in fact one of the main ground attack weapons of the RAF was in fact the rocket.  I'm also not sure I agree with his theory that the British tended to focus on defensive work, the Germans on offensive - I would say that the more apparently advanced nature of some German research has more to do with their inability to focus on the war at hand. British research was better focused on things that were expected to be useful during the current conflict, unlike the very advanced but ultimately fruitless German research into flying wings or the vast amount of effort poured into the V-1 and V-2 weapons that despite their advanced nature only delivered moderate payloads.

This is an excellent introduction to the subject - those who are more familiar with this part of the Second World War will probably still find some new material (for me it was in the Doctors at War chapter), but it is clearly aimed at people who are relatively new to the topic. Ford is a scientist in his own right, and his knowledge of the scientific world shows in the text.

1 - The Makings of a Secret War
2 - Flying Weapons: Secret Aircraft
3 - Flying Weapons: Bombs and Missiles
4 - The Rocket
5 - Doctors at War
6 - Dangerous Ideas
7 - Doomed to Fail
8 - Electronic Secrets

Author: Brian J. Ford
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 256
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2013

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