Finest Hour 156, Autumn 2012
Tall Tiger’s Tale
Catch That Tiger: Churchill’s Secret Order That Launched the Most Astounding and Dangerous Mission of World War II, by Noel Botham and Bruce Montague. John Blake, hardbound, illus., 228 pp., $24.95, members $19.95.
By Christopher H. Sterling
The authors of this breathless book admit that “all of the principal characters were real people,” but “some of the minor characters have been amalgamated for the sake of clarity. Intimate conversations are of a speculative nature.” Books with invented dialogue always give me pause—what’s real and what isn’t? But amalgamated characters? That’s a new one. (Or maybe not quite new.) Is this fact or fiction?
The subtitle should give pause. After all, how many “astounding and dangerous missions” were there from 1939 to 1945? And who says this one was “the most”? My concerns were thus aroused even before I read about Albert “Speers” (4)—his name was “Speer.” I’ll spare you more of this—and more there is.
The premise is that Churchill sent the book’s hero, engineer Major Douglas Lidderdale, to North Africa to capture one of the new German “Tiger” heavy tanks. Well-armed and armored, Tigers were knocking out lighter British and American tanks in battle. The authors claim Churchill personally told Lidderdale to “catch that Tiger”: to bring it back for study and then display it on Horse Guards Parade in central London. They also claim Churchill (and George VI as well) made a special trip to see the captured specimen in May 1943. Martin Gilbert gives this tale exactly one clause in a single sentence in Road to Victory (424), making clear that seeing the tank was but one element of a longer trip by Churchill.
The Tiger’s capture was (apparently) dramatic, but the weeks and months taken to get it moved from Tunisia to Britain suggest the mission’s priority wasn’t quite so high as intimated here.
Any book lacking an index or any documentation (save the Lidderdale diary—he died in 1999) is not a serious study. Indeed, this one reads more like a prospective “derring-do” film script. The people—real or amalgamated—come across as comic strip characters, not as serious men in dangerous times. Even the print is larger than normal, implausibly for “easy reading,” more likely to fill more pages. Save your money.
Get the Churchill Bulletin delivered to your inbox once a month.