An “authorized” but not “official” or “comprehensive” history of Britain’s swashbuckling Special Air Service.
Times (London) writer at large Macintyre (A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, 2014, etc.) was given full access to SAS archives and particularly the “War Diary,” an invaluable compilation of original documents gathered in 1946. The author makes engaging use of those archives. In 1941, the war was not going well, especially in North Africa. As Macintyre clearly shows, the SAS fighters were rowdy, undisciplined, inspiring men who were more harnessed than controlled, and they were to function as a small, independent army inflicting damage out of all proportion to their size. They fought a new sort of war, one without rules, based on a concept of stealth and economy. Their founder, David Stirling, built a group of guerrillas who planned to get behind enemy lines for quick, effective attacks. Their initial setup included very little, so they just stole what they needed from a nearby New Zealand regiment away on maneuvers. During their first operation, they parachuted in, but after a disastrous failure, they looked for a better entry. Connecting with the Long Range Desert Group gave them their own “Libyan Taxi Service” run by men who knew the desert as well as any Bedouin. American Jeeps were the next piece, refitted to become all-terrain combat vehicles. The SAS stole into German airfields, attached their specially adapted bombs to planes, and were well away before the fireworks. After Winston Churchill’s son reported on his time in the SAS, the prime minister summoned Stirling to dinner in Cairo, where he made a bold play to take full control of all of the special forces. These were incredibly courageous men who often seemed allergic to discipline but who fought hard and died throughout Africa and Europe.
A rollicking tale of “unparalleled bravery and ingenuity, interspersed with moments of rank incompetence, raw brutality and touching human frailty.”