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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

James Bond in Contemporary World War II and Cold War Events

The literary James Bond has been involved in some of twentieth century’s most pivotal historical events, as a trail through the novels will reveal. It seems that Bond was involved in some way with the secret service from before the beginning of the Second World War itself. The Head of S (the section of the Secret Service concerned with the Soviet Union) in the first Bond novel Casino Royale (1953) reveals to his Number Two who he thinks will get the project for the ruination of Le Chiffre at the baccarat table:

“One of the Double O’s - I guess 007. He’s tough and M thinks there may be trouble with those gunmen of Le Chiffre’s. He must be pretty good with the cards or he wouldn’t have sat in the Casino in Monte Carlo for two months before the war watching that Roumanian team work their stuff with the invisible ink and the dark glasses. He and the Deuxieme bowled them out in the end and 007 turned in a million francs he had won at shimmy. Good money in those days.” (Casino Royale, Pan Books Ltd., 1965, pp. 24-5) 

M later says to Bond during his briefing for the mission,

“I’m going to ask the Deuxieme to stand by. It’s their territory and as it is we shall be lucky if they don’t kick up rough. I’ll try and persuade them to send Mathis. You seemed to get on well with him in Monte Carlo on that other Casino job.” (Casino Royale, Pan Books Ltd., 1965, p. 26) 

Later on in Casino Royale are Bond is recovering in hospital from the horrific torture with the carpet beater that he received at the hands of Le Chiffre he recounts to Mathis how he earned his Double O status during the war for the secret service:

“‘Well, in the last few years I’ve killed two villains. The first was in New York – a Japanese cipher expert cracking our codes on the thirty-sixth floor of the RCA building in the Rockefeller centre, where the Japs had their consulate. I took a room on the fortieth floor of the next-door skyscraper and I could look across the street into his room and see him working. Then I got a colleague from our organization in New York and a couple of Remington thirty-thirty’s with telescopic sights and silencers. We smuggled them up to my room and sat for days waiting for our chance. He shot at the man a second before me. His job was only to blast a hole through the windows so that I could shoot the Jap through it. They have tough windows at the Rockefeller centre to keep the noise out. It worked very well. As I expected, his bullet got deflected by the glass and went God knows where. But I shot immediately after him, through the hole he had made. I got the Jap in the mouth as he turned to gape at the broken window.’

 Bond smoked for a minute.

‘It was a pretty sound job. Nice and clean too. Three hundred yards away. No personal contact. The next time in Stockholm wasn’t so pretty. I had to kill a Norwegian who was doubling against us for the Germans. He’d managed to get two of our men captured – probably bumped off for all I know. For various reasons it had to be an absolutely silent job. I chose the bedroom of his flat and a knife. And, well, he just didn’t die very quickly.

‘For those two jobs I was awarded a Double O number in the Service. Felt pretty clever and got a reputation for being good and tough. A double O number in our Service means you’ve had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of some job.’” (Casino Royale, Pan Books Ltd., 1965, pp. 141-2) 

In the ‘Chronology of James Bond’s Adventures’ in James Bond: The Man and His World by Henry Chancellor it dates these two assassinations as happening between 1941-44, and it also claims that Bond was 17 when he claimed he was 19 and entered the RNVR as a Lieutenant, then the secret service between 1937-41. 

Regarding Bond’s involvement in the armed forces in the Second World War, Dr. No (1958) gave one of the first mentions of Bond’s involvement in the armed forces before his entry into the world of espionage. When Dr. No’s men on the boat give their warning to Bond, Quarrel and Honey Rider over the loudhailer on the beach at Crab Key we are told,

“The machine gunner trained his gun into the tops of the mangroves behind the beach. There came the swift rattling roar Bond had last heard coming from the German lines in the Ardennes. The bullets made the same old sound of frightened pigeons whistling overhead.” (Dr. No, Pan Books Ltd., 1965, p. 77)

The Ardennes Offensive, or ‘the Battle of the Bulge’ as it is popularly called began on 16 December 1944 and ended on 16 January 1945. It was the last German offensive on the Western Front during the Second World War. The ‘bulge’ refers to the unsuccessful attempt by the Germans to drive a wedge into the Allied lines. After their invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the Allies moved rapidly across northern France into Belgium during the summer, but they lost their momentum in the autumn. General von Rundstedt’s Panzer Armies took advantage of the bad weather, which was hampering Allied aircraft and launched two parallel attacks with the aim of retaking the great port of Antwerp. The Fifth Army under General von Manteuffel had advanced by 24 December 1944 to within four miles of the Meuse River. However, by Christmas the inadequacy of German supplies and Allied resistance had halted the German offensive and ensured that this was to be the farthest point of the German drive. The Germans thereby made an orderly withdrawal between the 8 and 16 January 1945, having failed in their last desperate attempt to regain the initiative on the Western Front.

Further details of Bond’s wartime activities are given in M’s obituary for Bond in The Times in You Only Live Twice (1964):

“By now it was 1941 and, by claiming an age of nineteen and with the help of an old Vickers colleague of his father he entered a branch of what was subsequently to become the Ministry of Defence. To serve the confidential nature of his duties, he was accorded the rank of lieutenant in the Special Branch of the RNVR, and it is a measure of the satisfaction his services gave to his superiors that he ended the war with the rank of Commander. It was about this time that the writer became associated with certain aspects of the Ministry’s work, and it was with much gratification that I accepted Commander Bond’s post-war application to continue working for the Ministry in which, at the time of his lamented disappearance, he had risen to the rank of Principal Officer in the Civil Service.” (You Only Live Twice, Pan Books Ltd., 1966, p. 179)

There is something at odds here. In DR. NO we were led to believe that Bond’s wartime activities must have been in the army as the Ardennes mention suggests. But the You Only Live Twice obituary confirms that Bond was a Royal Volunteer Naval Reserve (RNVR) man. As Kingsley Amis points out in The James Bond Dossier (1965):

“But, even if Bond had learnt how to handle a bazooka in the Ardennes sector in 1944 (what was a Commander from Naval Intelligence doing there, by the way?), he had fairy-tale luck when he was allowed to snatch one off a U.S. soldier and fire it at Goldfinger’s hijacked train. Here reason makes a late come-back and, though Bond hits with his first and only shot, he inflicts no more than superficial damage.” (The James Bond Dossier, Kingsley Amis, Pan Books Ltd., London, 1966, p. 18-9)

In Thunderball (1961) Bond is sent to Shrublands to make to recuperate from his hard drinking and smoking. When Bond goes to see Mr. Joshua Wain in Consulting Room A he asks, “Bond to remove all his clothes except his pants.”

We are told that,

“When he saw the many scars he said politely, ‘Dear me, you do seem to have been in the wars, Mr Bond.’

Bond said indifferently, ‘Near miss. During the war.’”

After completing his inspection of Bond’s body, Wain informs him that there is:

“‘some right sacroiliac strain with the right ilium slightly displaced backwards. Due to a bad fall some time, no doubt.’ Mr Wain raised his eyes for confirmation.

Bond said, ‘Perhaps.’ Inwardly he reflected that the ‘bad fall’ had probably been when he had had to jump from the Arlberg Express after Heinkel and his friends had caught up with him around the time of the Hungarian uprising in 1956.” ( Thunderball, Chapter 2, Pan Books Ltd., 1963, p. 21)

In October 1956 the Hungarians had revolted against the communist rule, but Khrushchev sent Red Army tanks onto the streets to swiftly and ruthlessly crush the uprising. Later on in the novel Thunderball  when Bond and Felix Leiter are welcomed on board a United States Navy submarine, the captain, Commander Peter Pederson, U.S.N., says to his guests,

“‘Well gentlemen. Welcome aboard. Commander Bond, it’s a pleasure to have a member of the Royal Navy visit the ship. Ever been in subs before?’

‘I have,’ said Bond, ‘but only as a supercargo. I was in intelligence – RNVR Special Branch. Strictly a chocolate sailor.’

The captain laughed. ‘That’s good!…’ ( Thunderball, Chapter 20, Pan Books Ltd., 1963, p. 195)

Ian Fleming was of course also in Naval Intelligence during the Second World War, being the Personal Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. He too held the rank of an honorary commander in the RNVR, and like Bond he was teased for being a ‘Chocolate Sailor’ who was more of an 'ideas man' who sat behind a desk in the Admiralty planning missions rather than out in the middle of the action as he would have liked to have been.

In the short story ‘Quantum of Solace’ from the For Your Eyes Only (1960) collection we are told what Bond’s mission had been:

“Bond had been in the colony for a week and was leaving for Miami the next day. It had been a routine investigation job. Arms were getting to the Castro rebels in Cuba from all the neighbouring territories. They had been coming principally from Miami and the Gulf of Mexico, but when the US Coastguards had seized two big shipments, the Castro supporters had turned to Jamaica and the Bahamas as possible bases, and bond had been sent out from London to put a stop to it. He hadn’t wanted to do the job. If anything, his sympathies were with the rebels, but the Government had a big export programme with Cuba in exchange for taking more Cuban sugar than they wanted, and a minor condition of the deal was that Britain should not give aid or comfort to the Cuban rebels. Bond had found out about the two big cabin cruisers that were being fitted out for the job, and rather than make arrests when they were about to sail, thus causing an incident, he had chosen a very dark night and crept up on the boats in a police launch. From the deck of the unlighted launch he had tossed a thermite bomb through an open port of each of them. He had then made off at high speed and watched the bonfire from a distance. Bad luck on the insurance companies, of course, but there were no casualties and he had achieved quickly and neatly what M had told him to do.” (‘Quantum of Solace,’ from For Your Eyes Only, Pan Books Ltd., 1965, p. 85)

This assignment saw Bond trying to stop Fidel Castro’s communist rebels from overthrowing the brutal regime of the pro-American dictator of Cuba, Fulgencio Batista. The rebel forces under Castro had launched their ultimately successful attacks against the regime in the autumn of 1958 and Batista was forced to flee with his family to the Dominican Republic on 1 January 1959. This left the rebel leader Fidel Castro in charge of Cuba, where indeed he remained as leader until ill health forced him to hand the reins of leadership to his brother in 2006.

Another assignment from the For Your Eyes Only short story collection is mentioned in passing in ‘The Hildebrand Rarity’:

“It had been nearly a month before when M had told Bond he was sending him to the Seychelles. “Admiralty are having trouble with their new fleet base in the Maldives. Communists creeping in from Ceylon. Strikes, sabotage – the usual picture. May have to cut their losses and fall back on the Seychelles. A thousand miles farther south, but at least they look pretty secure. But they won’t want to be caught again. Colonial Office say it’s safe as houses. All the same I’ve agreed to send someone to give an independent view. When Makarios was locked up there a few years ago there were quite a few Security scares. Japanese fishing-boats hanging about, one or two refugee crooks from England, strong ties with France. Just go and have a good look.” M glanced out of the window at the driving March sleet. “Don’t get sunstroke.”

Bond’s report, which concluded that the only conceivable security hazard in the Seychelles lay in the beauty and the ready availability of the Seychelloises, had been finished a week before and then he had nothing to do but wait for the Kampala to take him to Mombasa.” (‘The Hildebrand Rarity,’ from For Your Eyes Only, Pan Books Ltd., 1965, p. 156)

The continuation author John Gardner kept on the tradition of reporting Bond’s involvement in contemporary events in Icebreaker (1983):

“In more official terms, Bond was what the American Service speaks of as a ‘singleton’ – a roving case officer who is given free rein to carry out special tasks, such as the ingenious undercover work he had undertaken during the Falkland Islands conflict in 1982. Then he had even appeared – unidentifiable – on a television newsflash, but that had passed like all things.” (Icebreaker, Coronet Books, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1984, p. 21)

The Falklands War was a brief, undeclared war fought between Argentina and Great Britain in 1982 over the control of the Falkland Islands. Argentina had claimed sovereignty over the Falkland Islands since the early nineteenth century but Britain consistently rejected Argentina’s claims, having administered the islands since 1833. In early 1982 the Argentine military junta under Lieutenant General Galtieri launched an invasion of the Falkland Islands. Argentine troops invaded the Falklands on 2 April 1982, rapidly overcoming the small garrison of British marines at the capital of Stanley. The British government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher assembled a naval task force with which to retake the islands. Perhaps Bond could have fitted among this contingent? The British naval force and the land-based Argentine air force fought intensive battles, the Argentineans sinking the HMS Sheffield and the container ship Atlantic Conveyor with Exocet air-to-sea missiles in the process. Argentina failed to stop the British from making an amphibious landing near Port San Carlos, on 21 May 1982.The large Argentine garrison at Port Stanley surrendered to the British on 14 June 1982 and this effectively ended the Falklands conflict. Argentina’s defeat in the war discredited the military government to the extent that it led to the restoration of a civilian government there in 1983. In Britain, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher converted the widespread patriotic support for her tough stance on Argentina into a landslide victory for the Conservative Party in the 1983 General Election. It seems fitting then to end this study of the literary James Bond’s involvement in contemporary events here as the Falklands War was seen by many as Britain’s last great outpouring of patriotic fervor for a war in a far-flung part of the dwindling Empire.

TBB Article No. 5

© Brian McKaig, 2007.