Master of Deception: The Wartime Adventures of Peter Fleming, by Alan Ogden, Bloomsbury Academic, London, 2019, $27
As a schoolboy I happened across a 1933 copy of Peter Fleming’s Brazilian Adventure. I discovered Peter was a sibling of Ian Fleming, who like his younger brother played a major role in British naval intelligence operations during World War II.
In addition to his trek across Brazil, Fleming made two epic journeys to the Far East and recalled them in what became best-selling books. At the outbreak of the war he was appointed to the short-lived Military Intelligence Department One (Research) and was later a founding member of the Special Operations Executive. Among his early tasks was to prepare a guerrilla force to harass the Germans should they land in Britain. Weapons he considered included bows and arrows tipped with poison, the effects of which Fleming had seen on his Amazonian travels.
In January 1941 Fleming was sent to the Middle East to sift captured Italian troops for anti-fascists with whom he might form a free Italian force. He then did demolition work in Greece while evading the Germans.
With the British reeling from Japanese advances in Southeast Asia, Gen. Sir Archibald Wavell called for Fleming to join him in India and conduct military intelligence, a posting in which he could dream up schemes to deceive the Japanese. In one such scheme a car reportedly carrying the general “plunged into a ditch” close to the Burmese front lines. On inspection of the wreck the Japanese discovered Wavell’s briefcase, replete with notes about vast phantom British forces stationed in India.
Other deceptions followed, but Fleming longed to be on the front lines and often slipped away to see things for himself. In a letter home he told one of his sons he was having a lovely time living in the woods and battling the Japanese. At war’s end Fleming received a paltry Order of the British Empire, hardly an appropriate reward for the services chronicled here.