Cecil Clarke: Churchill's Unlikely Weapons Mastermind

In the spring of 1939, a seemingly ordinary father and automobile mechanic became vital in the development of lethal weapons to aid the British fight against Hitler's expanding naval forces. Meet Cecil Clarke—and be sure to listen to the full story on the Unknown History podcast. 

Giles Milton
2-minute read

Cecil Clarke’s caravan was a marvel to behold. More than fourteen feet in height, it stood taller than a London double-decker bus and its low-slung chassis was a revolutionary piece of engineering. Like all of Clarke’s caravans, it came equipped with a unique suspension system that promised passengers a smoother ride than any other caravan on the road. It was a promise in which Clarke took considerable pride, for he was the designer, the engineer, the architect and the mechanic. 

Clarke was portly and bespectacled, a lumbering gentle-giant with heavy bones and a mechanic’s hands. Half boffin, half buffoon, he was viewed by his neighbours with affection tinged with humour. Those neighbours would smile knowingly to one another as they watched him buffing the paintwork of his beloved vehicles, unaware that he had the hands of a magician and the brains of a genius.

Clarke’s extraordinary caravans had come to the notice of an engineer- inventor named Stuart Macrae, who was working on a project of the greatest possible secrecy. Macrae had been approached by a clandestine organisation known as MIR – Military Intelligence Research – and asked to develop a new type of magnetic mine – one that could be used for guerrilla attacks on Hitler’s ever-growing navy. The date was spring 1939, and Hitler had just ordered his infamous Plan Z – the immediate and massive strengthening of the German navy. Rather than competing in a naval arms race it could not afford, Britain decided that it would be cheaper to sink Hitler’s ships than build new ones of their own.

Stuart Macrae agreed to take on the project of developing the deadly new mine, but he soon became unstuck. Unable to work out how to design such a dirty bomb, he turned to his old friend Cecil Clarke, whose brain – he knew - was used to finding out of the box solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

To find out what happened next, listen to the full episode of our podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook.

Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
This post was roughly excerpted from Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton. You can pick up a copy today on Amazon, IndieBoundBarnes & Noble, and Booksamillion


About the Author

Giles Milton

Giles Milton is a writer and historian who graduated from the University of Bristol. He is an internationally bestselling author of nine works of narrative non-fiction and three novels. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages and serialized by the BBC.