Ghost Patrol, A History of the Long Range Desert Group 1940-1945, John Sadler

Ghost Patrol, A History of the Long Range Desert Group 1940-1945, John Sadler

The Long Range Desert Group is one of the most famous examples of the ‘private armies’ that appeared in such large numbers during the campaign in North Africa (also famously the birthplace of the SAS). In this case the LRDG had a clear purpose – to take advantage of its ability to travel long distances across the desert to scout out the German and Italian positions, sometimes to carry out raids, and sometimes to carry the SAS on their raids, but always with a focus on the less glamorous but arguably more important task of road watching.

The first half of the book will be familiar to anyone who has read about the LRDG. We see how they inherited their skills from explorers and their First World War precursors, how they adapted their equipment to make it more suited to travel in the desert, look at the dramatic raids they were involved in, and long dull hours spent road watching. The second half of the book looks at the period after the end of the fighting in Africa (although most of the ‘Out of Africa’ chapter actually looks at the fighting in Tunisia). New roles were soon found for the group, but the first of these, contributing to the failed attempt to conquer the Dodecanese ended in disaster. Unlike some of the other Special Forces group the LRDG remained in the Mediterranean to the end of the war, working with partisans in the Balkans, and in particular in Yugoslavia, and more happily along the Adriatic coast, where the maze of islands turned out to be ideal for a small scale scouting and raiding force. One gets a real sense of the frustration suffered by some of the LRDG parties, who found themselves unwelcome in areas where the Communist resistance movements were already starting to focus on the post-war world, and for whom the presence of Western troops was potentially awkward. However even here the LRDG was able to make a clear contribution to the fighting.

The final chapter, on post-war Special Forces, is a classic example of the dangers of making predictions. First published in 2015 we are told that ISIS in northern Syria and Iraq couldn’t be defeated by conventional force, and that there wouldn’t be any more state on state conventional wars as they were too expensive. Within a few years ISIS had lost almost all of the territories it had been ruling, and this review is being written in the middle of the Russian-Ukrainian War.

Apart from that this is a good history of the LRDG, going beyond the familiar image of the desert warriors to look at their entire wartime experience.

1 – Legends of the ‘Blue’
2 – Piracy on the High Desert, 1940
3 – The Year of Dangerous Living, 1941
4 – ‘The Libyan Taxi Company Limited’, 1941-1942
5 – Sting of the Scorpion, 1942
6 – Out of Africa, 1942-1943
7 – The Wine-Dark Sea, 1943
8 – Garlic-Reeking Bandits, 1944-1945
9 – On the shores of the Adriatic, 1944-1945
10 – Ghost Patrols, 1945-2015

Author: John Sadler
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 232
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2020 edition of 2015 original

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