Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War by Ben Macintyre
Crown, 2016. Hardcover, 380 pages.
Rogue Heroes tells the story of the formation of Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS) during Wolrd War II and the men who created and/or pioneered the organization. The SAS was the brainchild of David Stirling, a young aristocrat with a bold idea. While recovering from an injury, he thought about creating a new type of unit that was small, highly mobile, and could strike far behind enemy lines. Stirling lobbied for the unit’s creation and was eventually allowed to recruit men.
To create his unit, Stirling looked for men who were not afraid to fight and were bold and daring. While I cannot name all here, several who were featured strongly throughout the book include Paddy Mayne, Jock Lewes, Reg Seekings, Johnny Cooper, Bill Fraser, and Jim Almonds. The unit began its career in North Africa striking airfields and leaving time-fuse bombs on airplanes. In fact, Lewes developed the bombs they used. From there, the men became bolder and pioneered the art of using aircraft machine guns affixed to their jeeps to attack bases. With every raid, they rained destruction while having some fun on the side. The harshness of the desert was never downplayed, as descriptions of training with little water and exploits of men separated from their units traveling the desert alone were also detailed. In their downtime, the men both trained a great deal and partied hard. As the war in North Africa came to a close, Stirling was captured on a raid and Mayne took command.
After leaving North Africa, the men of the SAS went on to European operations. Several SAS teams parachuted into Sicily ahead of the Allied landings to knock out key installations. When war came to France, teams were dropped in in advance to prepare the way and work with the French resistance throughout the campaign. However, with the new theaters of operation, the war changed from daring raids to more of a traditional soldier role and the SAS was formally incorporated into the command structure versus being a “rogue” self-sustaining unit. With that in mind, Macintyre shows how this changed the mens’ demeanor as they transitioned from desert warriors with free reign to units who would battle men trying to defend their homeland.
As with the other books by Macintyre I have read, this book is well-researched and supported by numerous cited sources. The difference this time is the access he had to the surviving SAS men and the ability to conduct oral history interviews and full access to the SAS archives. This was facilitated by the veterans themselves as they authorized this biography of their unit. As for the men’s many antics throughout the book as they conducted their raids and other actions, this book reminded me strongly of The Ariadne Objective about the Special Operations Executive in Crete which I read in 2014 (and was my favorite nonfiction book of that year). In both cases, the crazy romps the men found themselves planning, both in and out of combat, were brazen and will appeal to those who enjoyed either the original airing or enjoy the reruns of TV shows like M*A*S*H and Hogan’s Heroes. Overall, this was both an informative and very enjoyable read.
Do you think you will read this book? Do you have a similar title to recommend?
I received this book from the publisher for an honest review.