Popski's Private Army, Vladimir Peniakoff

Popski's Private Army, Vladimir Peniakoff

Vladimir Peniakoff was one of the most unlikely leaders of special forces to emerge from the fighting in North Africa. A Russian emigre, raised in Belgium and educated at Cambridge, he fought in the French Army during the First World War, before settling in Egypt in 1924. Once there he developed an interest in desert navigation, and by the start of the Second World War he had become something of an expert. Belgian neutrality kept him out of the war until the spring of 1940.

After a slow start serving with the Libyan Arab Force, Peniakoff found his niche, serving behind enemy lines in command of very small groups of hand picked men.

Popski's Private Army, or No. 1 Long Range Demolition Squadron, came into existence early in 1942. Modeled in part on the Long Range Desert Group, which Peniakoff really wanted to join, the PPA numbered just over 20 men. It took part in the pursuit after El Alamein, and the fighting in Tunis, specialising in getting around the open desert flank of the German lines and spreading "alarm and despondency". Popski then took his men to Italy, where the PPA found fewer open flanks but was still able to operate behind German lines in the Italian mountains. Although he was wounded quite badly on 9 December 1944, Popski returned to the unit in time for the final campaign in Italy and Austria. On the way he landed his jeeps on the Piazza San Marco in Venice, becoming one of the first people to drive a car in that city.

This memoir was published in 1951, just before Peniakoff's untimely death. It is one of the best autobiographies to emerge from the Second World War, partly because of Peniakoff's strongly worded opinions and partly because of the nature of the PPA's activities.

Author: Vladimir Peniakoff
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 448
Publisher: Cassell
Year: 2002 (Cassell edition)

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