Book Review: Uncovering a Real WW2 Spy

Intrepid — the Man Behind the Scenes, Involved in Nearly Everything

By Jeff Salter

As I was reading this (1976) non-fiction book, I was thinking, “if this were a novel, nobody would believe it.” William Stevenson’s “A Man Called Intrepid” details the behind-the-scenes activity of a British citizen (born in Canada) named William Stephenson… later knighted for his service. Note the similarity in their names and the difference in spelling — this review would be simpler to write if the author’s name was Jones.

Before I go much farther here, let me establish that I’ve read a LOT of non-fiction books and articles – along with a huge pile of novels – about World War Two. I was aware that Roosevelt and Churchill had been communicating and “cooperating” long before America’s official entry – beginning 12-7-41 with Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor… and a few days later with Hitler’s declaration of war against America – in that world war. Through “Lend-Lease” and many other programs – some known at the time and some kept VERY classified – Roosevelt did everything in his power to support and encourage our weakened British cousins [and later the Russians] under siege. Poland, France, and Holland had already fallen.

This book lays out the elaborate and extensive operations – including MANY on American soil – which worked behind the scenes, in both legal and completely illegal ways, to keep Great Britain from perishing and to prepare America for the involvement viewed by many to be inevitable.

Note, however, that – prior to the Pearl Harbor attack – there were MANY in America (both citizens and politicians) who strongly preferred us to remain neutral… and let England and France fight it out against the Germans and Italians. [After all, we were isolated by two oceans.]

Many others, however, recognized that the Axis Powers would not stop at conquering western Europe and the British Isles – among other places like Greece and Northern Africa – but would soon direct their energy and resources toward the Americas. So, it is those individuals – which included Roosevelt, obviously – who saw the writing on the wall and moved secretly (and, technically, illegally) to help our future allies as much as possible… and to gear up our production and human resources in preparation for our own direct involvement.

[Note: from 1939 through much of 1941, Russia was still allied with Germany… until Hitler broke their pact and attacked Stalin. After that, Russia became a de facto “ally” of America and England (among the others)… even though Stalin was fighting as much for his own future power and the Soviet state as he was a true “partner” in the allied struggle.]


So what am I saying?
I found this book startling, absorbing, and fascinating. Almost unbelievable the many ways Stephenson [i.e., Intrepid] worked with all these: the FBI, ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan (heading the precursor of the CIA), various departments of British Intelligence, Churchill personally, Roosevelt personally, as well as their trusted delegates. For a period of many years – counting the pre-war period in the 1930s – Stephenson was involved in vital decisions and developments and operations… which came together to help the allies defeat Germany, Japan, and Italy.

Now, here’s the kicker:

As I was scanning the Amazon reviews of this book today, I discovered there’s a degree of controversy over whether Stephenson [i.e., Intrepid] actually did everything Stevenson (the author) says he did. Some reviewers assert certain aspects of his involvement were embellished, while other cited facts were simply erroneous. I don’t know what to say about that controversy, but I know this author had access to Stephenson [i.e., Intrepid] himself, to Stephenson’s files, and to many records – on both sides of the Atlantic – which had been de-classified since the war’s end. [Note: as of the time of this author’s writing, many of the records were STILL classified.]

Therefore, I find this account to be believable and most likely as true (and complete) as can be written while some files are still being withheld. That said, it’s quite startling to learn how important to the post-war world makeup this one man was.

If the reader is an isolationist who believes America should have never been involved in WW2, this book will make you angry at how citizens (and their leaders) were deceived and manipulated. But if, like me, you believe America would’ve been dragged into the war anyway… then you’ll be grateful that Roosevelt and others were working behind the scenes to keep our British Cousins alive and kicking… and to get American armed forces and civilian production geared up. [I’ve read several “what if?” scenarios and it would not have taken very much tweaking of the political scene to have Roosevelt OUT of the White House and America basically ignoring the British devastation… and then we would’ve found ourselves attacked – possibly invaded – from the west by Japan and from the east by Germany.]

One further note: if you are not already reasonably well-versed in the history of WW2, this book may seem quite confusing. But if you, like me, are already aware of at least the overview of what happened and when… then I think you’ll be amazed and enthralled.

Just so you’ll have another perspective on Stephenson (i.e., Intrepid), have a look at this article:


By the way, there’s a six-page foreword by Sir William Stephenson himself… as well as a three page note from British Security Coordination Service historian, Charles Howard Ellis.

And just as a counter-balance to those reviewers who refuse to believe Stephenson was who he said he was and did what he said he did, look at these cover quotes:
1. “Bill Stephenson taught us all we ever knew about foreign intelligence.” — Gen. William Donovan, founder of the O.S.S.
2. “Stephenson and Donovan carried out the single outstanding intelligence coup of the Second World War when they delayed the Nazi invasion of Russia.” — Winston Churchill
3. “As long as Americans value courage and freedom there will be a special place in our hearts, our minds, and our history books for the ‘Man Called Intrepid’.” — Ronald Reagan
4. “The implications [of President Roosevelt’s involvement in espionage] are startling.” — John LeCarré.

[JLS # 415] — corrected


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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14 Responses to Book Review: Uncovering a Real WW2 Spy

  1. jbrayweber says:

    Ooh! I’m intrigued. But I do worry if I will get lost. I am not as well-educated on WWI & WWII as I am on the Civil War. The politics tend to confuse me if not written more like a story rather than a textbook. Sounds like a great book, though. I might give it a go one day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Diane Burton says:

    This is fascinating. I’m sure my husband will like this book–he’s well-versed in WWII. Thanks for sharing the info on this hero.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My parents met while working in a “war plant”; my mother was the executive secretary for the personnel office and my father was an electrical engineer who put radar into airplanes,(and I believe radios, etc.) They told some stories about the plant and those they knew, but they never spoke much about the war. Although he was no ‘hawk’, my father seemed to be more likely to think that sometimes war is necessary,but my mother was very dove-like. (This has made for an interesting home-life here, with my military-raised husband.) I think anyone who knows me that I believe there must be a better answer than allowing leaders to sit back and send others to be killed and maimed, (and the ‘collateral’ damage of civilians), but I have had my eyes opened about who things actually were in WWII and the situation that called for action over what was about to be unleashed on the world, by the time the U.S. got involved.
    There still has to be a way to stop things from getting that far, but I digress.
    Through my husband, I have seen and heard much about Intrepid. We will find it interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      As a kid, as a boy, growing up watching war movies, war seemed “exciting”.
      Over the decades, as I’ve read more and more of the actual battles and units, I have a very different realization. WAy too much to go into here, but suffice it to say that there are many lives lost or ruined by very callous individuals in powerful positions, who have what appears to be a very narrow focus. To many of those leaders, human lives were nearly as expendable as ammo, weapons, and supplies — just a “cost” of war.
      None of my research, however, has diminished my respect and gratitude to those who served.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My father’s brothers served in WWII, (My father had lost an eye at a young age and wasn’t able to serve directly); even his minister brother was a chaplain and was decorated for his service in ETO. (He was at Anzio and even he wrote a poem about the tragedy of the young lived lost.)
        You know that my brother served two long tours, (a years each), in Vietnam and my second son served in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one ‘supports the troops’ more than I. I just don’t like it that they use the phase to support the waste of lives, literally and virtually, while NOT supporting those who come back, whether wounded in body and soul, or just soul.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Thanks for sharing, Jeff. This sounds like a fascinating book, and I see that it’s been made into a mini-series. Perhaps you’ll want to check that out and let us know how it compares! BTW, I don’t think the spelling of his name is unusual.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I wasn’t aware of a mini-series. Would love to see if it’s true to what this book reveals.
      The spelling matter was simply that the Author is William Stevenson and the subject is William Stephenson. So it can get confusing.


  5. Elaine Cantrell says:

    Thanks, Jeff. This sounds absolutely fascinating. Of course, I do love history.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How interesting! Sounds like he was a vital part in our history. I think I will have to learn more about him. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      It was certainly an eye-opener to me. I had known of the close relationship & communication between Roosevelt and Churchill. And I knew FDR was privately promising (and to some extend delivering) far more support than he ever publicly acknowledged prior to Pearl Harbor. And I had even known that Churchill had a small enclave of aides (or, as it turns out, agents) operating in the U.S. presumably close to our Capitol.
      But that’s about the extent of what I knew before reading this book.


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