Light Mode

The True(ish) Story Behind The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

It looks like Guy Ritchie is delivering a “jolly good show,” as the man behind The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is reuniting with Henry Cavill for The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Known for gangster movies like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Ritchie has since dipped his hands in everything from the Robert Downey Jr.-led Sherlock Holmes movies to Disney’s Aladdin. Once again trying something different, Ritchie’s latest outing is a wartime epic that’s loosely based on real-life events. But, just what is the true(ish) story of The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare?

Based on a 2014 book titled Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII (a bit of a mouthful itself there), The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a highly fictionalized account of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and its involvement in World War II. 


- Advertisement -




The SOE was formed in 1940 and became Churchill’s plan to place operatives behind enemy lines with perfect deniability. Think of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds but without Brad Pitt’s dodgy accent. Churchill’s Secret Warriors explains how these “freelance pirates” helped secure the Allied Victory over the Nazis in World War II, with The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare specifically focusing on Gus March-Phillipps. Cavill plays March-Phillipps here, taking the lead on a fictionalized account of January 1942’s Operation Postmaster.

Alongside Cavill, Alan Ritchson plays Anders Lassen, the famed Danish soldier who was known as the “Robin Hood Commando” because of his use of a bow and arrow. We also know that Freddie Fox is portraying Ian Fleming, who was the SOE’s liaison at the Admiralty before putting pen to paper on the James Bond books. The team, officially known as the Maid Honor Force, gets its nickname from the “ungentlemanly” fighting techniques we see in the trailer, which became their calling card in Operation Postmaster. In January 1942, March-Phillipps and Lassen were tasked with capturing German and Italian ships from the Gulf of Guinea island called Fernando Po — now known as Bioko.  




- Advertisement -

The Spanish-owned island was home to an Italian merchant vessel (Duchessa d’Aosta), a German tug (Likomba), and a diesel-powered barge (Bibundi). March-Phillipps led the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) known as No. 62 Commando to Fernando Po, with support from four Special Operations Executive men and 17 local volunteers. The neutrality of Spain meant the ships couldn’t be taken out from above, nor could they be sunk, for fear the shallow waters meant they’d easily be re-floated.


Photo: Daniel Smith


SOE agent Richard Lippett persuaded the crew of the crew of Duchessa d’Aosta to attend a party on the shore, although he appears to be MIA in Ritchie’s adaptation. With the crew distracted, March-Phillipps, Lassen, and company overtook the ships and sailed them out of the harbor. Fleming was a driving force in the British Government’s deniability, spreading the word that the crew had mutinied and stolen the boats themselves. The British destroyer HMS Violet was supposed to intercept the “stolen” boats, but when in international waters, took them into British custody.  

Other major players are Eiza González as Marjorie Stewart. Although it looks like Ritchie has taken influence from wartime pinup Margie Stewart, González plays an intelligence agent here. Alex Pettyfer portrays Geoffrey Appleyard, who served aboard March-Phillipps’ Maid Honor Force trawler that disguised itself as a Swedsh pleasure cruiser to trick the enemy. Rounding off the cast is Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Henry Hayes, who is seemingly a nod to the real-life Captain Graham Hayes. Finally, there’s no mention of Henry Golding’s character of Freddy Alvarez in the real Operation Postmaster.


- Advertisement -
Photo: Daniel Smith




While Operation Postmaster was a massive victory that resulted in no Allied losses, a tragic fate befell both March-Phillipps and Lassen. Despite being awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his service, March-Phillipps lost his life in September 1942 during the botched Operation Aquatint. Lassen went on to serve in the fledgling Special Air Service (SAS) and is the regiment’s only man to earn the Victoria Cross. This came at the cost of his life, as Lassen was killed when storming an Italian bunker less than a month before the end of the war. Some think March-Phillipps foresaw his own death, penning a poem shortly before Operation Postmaster that read: “Let me be brave and gay again / Oh Lord, when my time is near. / Let the god in me rise up and break / The stranglehold of fear. / Say that I die for Thee and the King, And what I hold most dear.”




The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare might pitch itself as being based on an “outrageous true story,” but with a gun-toting March-Phillipps blasting his way through Nazis with a crazed look on his face, some of the events depicted are about as factual as Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Still, that won’t stop The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare from being a typically Ritchie-esque romp. 


Like wartime high-adventure? Be the first to buy tickets for the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare HERE.




Based in Manchester, UK, Tom Chapman has over seven years’ experience covering everything from dragons to Demogorgons. Starting out with a stint at Movie Pilot in Berlin, Tom has since branched out to indulge his love of all things Star Wars and the MCU at Digital Spy, Den of Geek, IGN, Yahoo! and more. These days, you’ll find Tom channelling his inner Gale Weathers and ranting about how HBO did us dirty with Game of Thrones Season Eight.



- Advertisement -