On February 29, University of Oklahoma Press will release Rediscovering Irregular Warfare: Colin Gubbins and the Origins of Britain’s Special Operations Executive, authored by Dr. Aaron Linderman, IWP Class of 2008.
The book explores the origins of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), its work during World War II, and the influence of Colin Gubbins, a British officer who brought irregular warfare experience to drive the success of the SOE.
“IWP is a vigorous advocate of employing all the tools of statecraft. That vision was integral to the very conception of this book and it was because of my IWP education that I was so strongly attracted to those organizations and operations during World War II which fell in the grey areas surrounding conventional military operations,” said Dr. Linderman.
He continued: “Britain’s SOE was a civilian organization, not military, and although its existence was secret, it was not an intelligence organization per se. Rather, it conducted paramilitary operations in support of resistance movements for the furtherance of military, political, and economic strategy. In some instances SOE operatives were at the tip of the spear, but more often they provided training and logistical support to foreign partners, which in turn required working with foreign governments in exile. SOE played a supporting role in the Allied propaganda effort and its aid to resistance movements was intended not merely to advance material objectives but also to lift their morale and affirm the dignity of captive nations. That’s an extremely broad vision utilizing an extensive range of tools.
“The book focuses primarily on SOE’s origins and the way that its central figure, Colin Gubbins, gleaned lessons from past conflicts in order to craft this new organization. Gubbins’ process of research and synthesis, and my own efforts to uncover and describe that process, mirror two key aspects of the IWP ethos: the belief that the past provides useful insights for the present and the conviction that ideas matter for the activity of organizations.”
The book, which is part biography and part organizational history, traces Gubbins’ career through several irregular conflicts and demonstrates how his unconventional warfare experience formed the basis for British policies and contributed to success for the Allies.
Dr. Linderman comments: “This is primarily a work of historical scholarship. It does not make policy recommendations for the US today. But, I hope that those involved in policymaking and our nation’s defense will find here inspiration for creative, historically-informed statecraft that extends beyond just the traditional tools or the ‘standard’ way of doing things.”
Indeed, Rediscovering Irregular Warfare includes timeless lessons, including the importance of local populations in covert operations, the role of intelligence in irregular warfare, the need to cooperate with conventional military forces, and the element of surprise in these operations.