George Rheam and Industrial Sabotage

George Rheam has been called "a large man with a large mind." Learn how he helped Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlmanly Warfare by inventing forms of industrial sabotage.

Giles Milton
2-minute read
Episode #41


Colin Gubbins was always looking out for brilliant mavericks who might be able to help him fight his dirty war against Hitler. Among the early recruits were Cecil Clarke, a trailer engineer with a hidden expertise in high explosive and Millis Jefferis, who displayed an alarming interest in blowing up bridges. Both have been featured in previous episodes of Unknown History. But one of the most chilling individuals to be hired by Gubbins was George Rheam.

Rheam had first come to Gubbins’s attention in 1943, when he learned of a brilliantly gifted maverick living in a suburban house in north London. Rheam was said to be the country’s leading expert in steam turbines, power stations and generators: he was immediately summoned to Gubbins’s Baker Street headquarters for an interview.

Those who met George Rheam rarely forgot the experience, for he was a chilling individual, an unsmiling genius with thatch-coloured hair and penetrating steel eyes that betrayed no hint of his inner thoughts.

He spoke sparingly, precisely, as if adjectives and adverbs were a frivolous waste of time. Gubbins was quick to realize that Rheam had a very clear idea of how to destroy the Nazis. His greatest desire was to turn Occupied Europe into an industrial junkyard and he insisted that ‘sabotage, if properly planned and carried out, can reduce a country’s war-potential to the point where it becomes impossible to wage war.’

Rheam also knew more than most people about industrial engineering. He had worked for nearly a decade at an industrial plant, where he was rather better at interacting with steam turbines than with his colleagues. In 1930 he and Mrs Rheam moved south – to London - so that he could take up a new job at a generating station. Here, he spent his working day studying the parts of electricity generators. He was soon the country’s leading expert.

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This post was roughly excerpted from Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton. You can pick up a copy today on AmazonIndieBoundBarnes & 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.