Behind the Lines - A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II, Michael F. Dilley

Behind the Lines - A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II, Michael F. Dilley

The Second World War saw the appearance of a surprisingly large number of Special Forces organisations, some, such as the SAS, still well known while others, like Popski's Priate Army, are unfamiliar to most readers. Most of these organisations were raiding groups, attacking behind enemy lines, or more rarely carrying out difficult attacks as part of a larger campaign (D-Day in particular).

The aim of this book isn't to describe the raids, but instead to judge the quality of their operations. In most cases individual raids are the focus, although some chapters look at the entire history of particular units (Popski again or the Alamo Scouts). The author uses a series of set criteria to judge these raids, so the exercise isn't as subjective as one might think. This also allows for negative comments to be made about successful raids or positive comments about raids that succeeded but that had positive elements (in some cases the only positive to be found is that lessons were learnt from the failure - the early Tragino Aqueduct being one such example, where the entire attacking force was lost and little damage caused).

The criteria used are provided by Lucien S. Vandebroucke, who examined a large number of Special Forces operations and came up with a list of the main reasons for failures and William H. McRaven, who came up with a list of positive factors that most successful raids had in common.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the author was willing to make positive judgements, in some cases on entire organisations. Often 'critical surveys' are overwhelmingly negative, but here the author uses the full meaning of 'critical'  as an analysis of something's merits and faults. That makes this a very interesting book, providing a balanced view of the activities of the many and varied Special Forces units of the Second World War, giving clear reasons for both their successes and their failures.

Part 1 - Behind Enemy Lines
1 - The Tragino Aqueduct Mission
2 - The Raid to Kill Rommel
3 - The Locust Warriors
4 - The Return of the Golden Kite
5 - Stealing Henry
6 - The Great Jeep Raid
7 - Targets X, Y and L
8 - Popski's Private Army: Spreading Alarm and Despondency
9 - Popski's Private Army: Hide and Seek
10 - The Amphibious Scouts
11 - 'Oil Spot' in New Guinea
12 - Operation Jaywick
13 - Alamo Scouts: Alamo Scouts Training Centre
14 - Alamo Scouts: Sumner Team at Pegun Island
16 - Alamo Scouts: Nellist and Rounsaville Teams at Cabanatuan
17 - Battle at Merville Battery
18 - OSS Operations Groups
19 - Raid on Los Banos
20 - Operation Dracula

Part II - Behind Friendly Lines
21 - Breaking and Entering
22 - Rescue at Gran Sasso
23 - The Triple Nickel

Appendix A: Evaluation Criteria
Appendix B: Operations & Units Deserving Special Recognition

Author: Michael F. Dilley
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 320
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2013

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