Pioneers of Irregular Warfare

Secrets of the Military Intelligence Research Department of the Second World War

Malcolm Atkin

Date Published :
May 2021
Publisher :
Pen and Sword
Illustration :
30 black and white illustrations
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781526766007
Pages : 272
Dimensions : 9.25 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
Also available digitally:
Buy From Amazon Amazon
Buy From Apple Apple
Buy From Barnes and Noble Barnes & Noble
Buy From Google Google
Buy From Kobo Kobo

Casemate will earn a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking a link here


An authoritative account of a little-known and often misunderstood organization and its contribution to the formation of the Auxiliary Units and SOE.

Covert operations and ingenious weapons for irregular warfare were developed rapidly, and with great success, by the British during the Second World War, and the story of the most famous organizations involved like SOE, the SAS and Section D of SIS is now well known, but Military Intelligence (Research), the smallest but one of the most influential of these units is relatively unknown.

Malcolm Atkin’s intriguing and meticulously researched account describes their role at the heart of the War Office in trying to develop a ‘respectable’ arm of irregular warfare and their innovations ranging from the early Commandos, sticky bombs, limpet mines, booby traps, and even helicopters to the creation of the MI9 escape organization. They were an ‘ideas factory’ rather than an operational body but the book describes their worldwide operations including Finland, Norway, Romania, the Middle East and Central Africa.

This is also a story of conflicting personalities between Jo Holland, the visionary but self-effacing head of MI(R) and his ambitious deputy, Colin Gubbins (later head of SOE), and the latter’s private war with SIS.

About The Author

Malcolm Atkin is a former head of the Historic Environment and Archaeology Service for Worcestershire. After becoming a leading authority on the English Civil War, he has more recently made a special study of home defense and the development of British intelligence during the Second World War. His many publications include Cromwell's Crowning Mercy: The Battle of Worcester, The Civil War in Evesham: A Storm of Fire and Leaden Hail, Worcestershire Under Arms, Worcester 1651, Fighting Nazi Occupation: British Resistance 1939-1945, Myth and Reality: the Second World War Auxiliary Units and Section D for Destruction: Forerunner of SOE.


"...a value-added contribution to intelligence history and is recommended for scholars of the period as well as intelligence professionals. By highlighting Holland’s and MI(R)’s wartime contributions, Atkin ably investigates the conceptual roots of the modern special warfare unit while introducing a fresh perspective to the well-traversed topic of the rise of British special warfare."

- Journal of Military History

"Any serious student of special ops origins owes Mr. Atkin’s work his or her attention."

- The NYMAS Review

Insightful personal dynamics are discussed, which likely would not have been possible without the interviews Atkin conducted."

- American Intelligence Journal

"Painstakingly researched, thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, enhanced with a multi- paged section of historical photos..."

- Midwest Book Review

"Readers of Atkin's history will learn that British planning in the early war years was naive and often arrogant."

- Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies

More from this publisher