“Riveting…A true-life mix of James Bond, Lawrence of Arabia and ‘Casablanca.'”
-The Wall Street Journal
The astonishing untold story of the author’s father, the lone American on a four-person team of Allied secret agents dropped into Nazi-occupied France, whose epic feats of irregular warfare proved vital in keeping German tanks away from Normandy after D-Day.
When Daniel Guiet was a child and his family moved country, as they frequently did, his father had one possession, a tin bread box, that always made the trip. Daniel was admonished never to touch the box, but one day he couldn’t resist. What he found astonished him: a .45 automatic and five full clips; three slim knives; a length of wire with a wooden handle at each end; thin pieces of paper with random numbers on them; several passports with his father’s photograph, each bearing a different name; and silk squares imprinted with different countries’ flags, bearing messages in unfamiliar alphabets. The messages, he discovered much later, were variations on a theme: I am an American. Take me to the nearest Allied military office. You will be paid.
Eventually Jean Claude Guiet revealed to his family that he had been in the CIA, but it was only at the very end of his life that he spoke of the mission during World War II that marked the beginning of his career in clandestine service. It is one of the last great untold stories of the war, and Daniel Guiet and his collaborator, the writer Tim Smith, have spent several years bringing it to life. Jean Claude was an American citizen but a child of France, and fluent in the language; he was also extremely bright. The American military was on the lookout for native French speakers to be seconded to a secret British special operations commando operation, dropping clandestine agents behind German lines in France to coordinate aid to the French Resistance and lead missions wreaking havoc on Germany’s military efforts across the entire country. Jean Claude was recruited, and his life was changed forever. Though the human cost was terrible, the mission succeeded beyond the Allies’ wildest dreams.
Scholars of Mayhem tells the story of Jean Claude and the other three agents in his “circuit,” codenamed Salesman, a unit of Britain’s Special Operations Executive, the secret service ordered by Churchill to “Set Europe ablaze.” Parachuted into France the day after D-Day, the Salesman team organized, armed, and commanded an underground army of 10,000 French Resistance fighters. National pride has kept the story of SOE in France obscure, but of this there is no doubt: While the Resistance had plenty of heart, it was SOE that gave it teeth and claws. Scholars of Mayhem adds brilliantly to that picture, and further underscores what a close-run thing the success of the Allied breakout from the Normandy landings actually was.
Tim Smith has written and edited feature stories for periodicals for 40 years. He was the senior features editor at Fortune magazine, and before that he worked as a reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal. A native New Yorker, he was educated at Brown University and the Sorbonne. He has three children and lives with his wife, Jennifer, on the Connecticut shore. He is a recipient of the Gerald Loeb career achievement award for editors.