The Long Range Desert Group was the first of the many units of Special Forces raised by the British during the Second World War, and like so many of the later groups came into existence because of the unusual nature of the war in North Africa. On this front the majority of the fighting took place in the narrow coastal strip, with a wide open southern front created by the vast North African deserts. The Long Range Desert Group was formed around a core of men with a great deal of experience of travelling in the desert, and its role was to use the desert to get past the front lines and into the enemies rear areas, where they carried out a mix of reconnaissance and raids.
The LRDG appears in just about every history of the fighting in North Africa, but rarely in much detail. A brief mention of their reconnaissance role is common, but they are perhaps most famous for providing transport for the SAS early in that group’s existence. This is unfair to the LRDG, which developed a series of techniques for crossing the deep desert that allowed them to travel hundreds of miles behind enemy lines, from where they were able to provide an invaluable service, watching the limited roads that carried most of Rommel’s supplies and reinforcements, and on occasion carrying out impressively destructive raids of their own. This book tells their full story, from their formation, through the too-and-fro battles in North Africa and on to eventual victory. The SAS make an appearance, but that part of the story isn’t allowed to dominate,
The LRDG is probably the most famous of the Second World War Special Force groups not to have survived into the post-war world. The SAS and SBS both still survive, but the future of the LRDG came into doubt earlier than most, when the war in North Africa ended. The last few chapters of the book are thus dominated by the search for a new role for the group, away from the desert that gave it its purpose and its very title. The eventual answer was to turn the group into another raiding force, operating in the Balkans, Italy and at sea in the Aegean. Not all of these efforts were successful - the group was drawn into the disastrous attempt to liberate the Dodecanese Islands, the last British defeat in the Mediterranean. Some of their early land based operations in Europe also ended in failure, as the group had to adapt to an entirely new type of warfare. Even in the Balkans, where the group had its last major successes, one can sense the frustration caused by having to work with unreliable allies, in the shape of the various Partisan groups, and the relationship eventually broke down totally towards the end of the war, with many of the LRDG operatives being ‘arrested’ by the former Allies in an early sign of the post-war Cold War.
This is a fascinating story, and Mortimer tells it well. The LRDG carried out some truly impressive journeys and we follow them as they deal with the threat of air attack, being caught by superior forces on the ground and most significantly of all, the unforgiving desert.
1 - From Scientist to Soldier
2 - Only the Tough Need Apply
3 - Into Action
4 - Expansion and Excitement
5 - Fight at the Fort
6 - The Afrika Korps Arrive
7 - Misuse and Malaria
8 - Heavy Losses and a New Leader
9 - The Saviours of the SAS
10 - On the Back Foot
11 - Courage in the Face of Calamity
12 - The Eyes of the Alamein Offensive
13 - Adventures in the Aegean
14 - The Battle for Leroes
15 - A Different Type of Warfare
16 - Valour and Versatility
17 - Until the Bitter End
Author: Gavin Mortimer