In 1939, tensions across Europe were mounting as the dominance of Hitler and the Nazi Party grew unchecked. But when one man was tasked by William Churchill to devise an innovative strategy for fighting the Nazis, the outcome was a new kind of warfare the world had never before been seen. Read on to meet the founder of guerilla warfare Collin Gubbins - and be sure to tune into the full episode on the Unknown History podcast.
Colin Gubbins was a most unlikely figure to lead a guerrilla army. He was a dapper little man who wore smooth suede gloves and walked with a silver-topped cane. He was, said one, ‘dark and short, his fingers square, his clothes immaculate’, and he had the looks to match the attire. ‘Slight and superbly built, with beetling eyebrows, penetrating eyes and a gravelly voice’. But some of his acquaintances were troubled by the sharp glint in his eyes, which seemed to hint at an icy ruthlessness.
Gubbins was 43 years of age in 1939: had fought in the trenches of the First World War and had seen enough horrors to put most men off war for the rest of their lives. Not Gubbins. He was addicted… he had war in his blood and he wanted more. After a brief tour of duty in Murmansk, having a crack at Lenin’s Bolsheviks, he offered his services in Ireland.
It was to change his life forever. He found himself engaged in running street battles with Michael Collins and his band of Sinn Fein revolutionaries, a bitter, nasty and unpredictable conflict. Gubbins complained to his superiors at ‘being shot at from behind hedges by men in trilbys and mackintoshes and not being allowed to shoot back’. But those men in trilbys taught him a lesson he would never forget: irregular soldiers, armed with nothing but homespun weaponry, could wreak havoc on a regular army.
In the spring of 1939, he was asked to join a top secret outfit whose purpose was to plan a dirty, mischievous and thoroughly ungentlemanly war against Hitler’s Nazis. It had been given the name MIR – Military Intelligence, Research. The research was into how to fight an effective guerrilla war. Gubbins’s priority was to prepare an instruction manual in such warfare, setting out in terse prose how best to kill, incapacitate or maim the maximum number of people.
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 iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook