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In the summer of 1941, at the height of the war in the Western Desert, a bored and eccentric young officer, David Stirling, came up with a plan that was radical and entirely against the rules: a small undercover unit that would inflict mayhem behind enemy lines. Despite intense opposition, Winston Churchill personally gave Stirling permission to recruit the toughest, bright In the summer of 1941, at the height of the war in the Western Desert, a bored and eccentric young officer, David Stirling, came up with a plan that was radical and entirely against the rules: a small undercover unit that would inflict mayhem behind enemy lines. Despite intense opposition, Winston Churchill personally gave Stirling permission to recruit the toughest, brightest and most ruthless soldiers he could find. So began the most celebrated and mysterious military organisation in the world: the SAS. Now, 75 years later, the SAS has finally decided to tell its astonishing story. It has opened its secret archives for the first time, granting historian Ben Macintyre full access to a treasure trove of unseen reports, memos, diaries, letters, maps and photographs, as well as free rein to interview surviving Originals and those who knew them. The result is an exhilarating tale of fearlessness and heroism, recklessness and tragedy; of extraordinary men who were willing to take monumental risks. It is a story about the meaning of courage.


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In the summer of 1941, at the height of the war in the Western Desert, a bored and eccentric young officer, David Stirling, came up with a plan that was radical and entirely against the rules: a small undercover unit that would inflict mayhem behind enemy lines. Despite intense opposition, Winston Churchill personally gave Stirling permission to recruit the toughest, bright In the summer of 1941, at the height of the war in the Western Desert, a bored and eccentric young officer, David Stirling, came up with a plan that was radical and entirely against the rules: a small undercover unit that would inflict mayhem behind enemy lines. Despite intense opposition, Winston Churchill personally gave Stirling permission to recruit the toughest, brightest and most ruthless soldiers he could find. So began the most celebrated and mysterious military organisation in the world: the SAS. Now, 75 years later, the SAS has finally decided to tell its astonishing story. It has opened its secret archives for the first time, granting historian Ben Macintyre full access to a treasure trove of unseen reports, memos, diaries, letters, maps and photographs, as well as free rein to interview surviving Originals and those who knew them. The result is an exhilarating tale of fearlessness and heroism, recklessness and tragedy; of extraordinary men who were willing to take monumental risks. It is a story about the meaning of courage.

30 review for Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matthias

    "With correct timing and in suitable country, with or without the help of the local population, a small specially trained force can achieve results out of all proportion to its numbers." - Major Roy Alexander Farran DSO The territory of military history books in bookshops is mostly undiscovered terrain for me. All these pages that glorify, rationalise and romanticise the biggest atrocities mankind has committed never managed to ignite my interest much. Both the intellectual and the romantic appro "With correct timing and in suitable country, with or without the help of the local population, a small specially trained force can achieve results out of all proportion to its numbers." - Major Roy Alexander Farran DSO The territory of military history books in bookshops is mostly undiscovered terrain for me. All these pages that glorify, rationalise and romanticise the biggest atrocities mankind has committed never managed to ignite my interest much. Both the intellectual and the romantic approach do nothing for me to detract from my conviction that at the root of war there is pure evil, plain and simple, no matter how much yarn you spin around it. People say it's important to read up on wars, on how and why they were conducted, in order to learn from the experience. But what is there to learn? Just play nice and don't go murdering each other. It's a lesson that hardly warrants a full library: an aphorism on a kitchen wall should be enough if the message resounding in your own heart doesn't suffice. I am fully aware I sound like a naive pacifist here, and people with military history or soldiers in the family might even disdain this opinion, this ingratitude in the face of their heroism and sacrifice, but let there be no mistake: I am fully aware I am indebted to all those who took up their arms in order to defend their loved ones and indirectly allowed me to be born, to live, and to live in the society I live in now, but another side of the story is that I'm here despite of all those bullets flying through the air. The irrationality of war happens on such a large scale that it's unfair to make blanket statements on all who, sometimes highly understandably, participate in it, but when I see heroes of the war being praised my thoughts usually go to those who were on the other end of that heroism, in some unmarked grave, their bravery unsung because they were on the "evil" or losing side. I find that narratives on World War II are particularly blunt in that regard because we all agree that the Nazis were the bad guys in that piece of history, and between 1939 and 1945, a dead German was a good German. Despite my many misgivings on war I am not above being entertained by war-inspired movies and video games. One of these video games was Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, a tactical game where with a small team of specialised soldiers the player had to infiltrate enemy bases and destroy key equipment and buildings. There's something intensely satisfying about the idea of a small unit slipping through nets of patrolling enemies and reaching the target undetected. While I knew this was somehow based on real life war practices I assumed it was heavily spiced up for entertainment value. Now I know better. Who dares wins - SAS motto Thanks to some romantic notions I had around the small commando units and despite my general misgivings on the topic of war I decided to pick up this book which describes the history of the British Special Air Service (SAS) and some of the memorable missions they conducted. The SAS was the first of its kind and has since its conception inspired many future military leaders as well as movie directors. This is the first time the official SAS Archives dealing with World War II could be consulted and with Ben Macintyre an experienced writer with a gift for flowing prose was put in charge of looking into these files and extracting an engaging narrative from them. An exploit in which he succeeded remarkably well, through the well-measured use of a flurry of anecdotes but mainly because the story of SAS is such a gripping one in itself. Macintyre zooms in on some of the most characteristic members of the regiment that consisted entirely of colourful people with a knack for thinking outside of the box, bending rules and breaking their bones. Colour doesn't come thanks to only qualities. Most of these men had quirks and troubles, sometimes of a most explosive kind, and also these are described in the book, ensuring that while you read these frankly fantastic stories you never forget you're reading about real people in real situations. The narrative starts with the founding of the SAS, goes over the "gentlemanly" operations conducted in the North African deserts against Rommel's troops, moves to missions in Italy and France and ends with the ever more atrocious encounters in Germany during the final stage of the war. The first part of the book largely coincided with my views on the regiment that were based on the game, namely that they were mainly a tactical organisation intent on intelligence gathering and destroying important equipment, fuel depots and transport lines with as little death and injury possible. But soon it's clear that this is war, not a fairy tale, and inadvertently the dead bodies start piling up. Even these "romantic soldiers" dealt in blood and death, and many of the smiling faces you see in this book's photographs have faced gruesome ends. But as the opening quote has shown, the SAS inflicted more damage to the Germans than they had to endure and the death toll on the German side is quite staggering. For the first bunker of Germans that was shot up and cleared out there was a high emphasis on how cruel and vicious it had seemed, but not much later it becomes business as usual, and the chapters are simply rounded off with a quick enumeration of the mission statistics that illustrate the high success rate, which is to say: hundreds of dead nazis. This is clearly a book about those who won the war and little thought is spared for those who lost. The anecdotes range from funny stories about bagpipes on the battlefield to traumatizing experiences of murdered children and the liberation of a concentration camp. It offers a good balance between the personal perspective of some of the soldiers on the one hand and the broader context in which they operated on the other, so that the end result is an easy-to-follow narrative that, while maybe too romantic in some instances, will keep you on the edge of your seat and teach you more about how David Stirling, the founder of SAS, changed the war paradigm of two opposing fronts looking each other in the eye. Armies needed to watch their backs from then on. While this book is based on historical archives and deals in facts, it doesn't read like a dry history book because it's just so damn entertaining. I don't know how this book compares to the (auto)biographies of the soldiers who were part of this daring regiment, but I can definitely recommend it as a first read on what it's like to fight behind enemy lines. Exciting, frightening, adventurous, romantic, tragic, sometimes morally dubious and, most of all, disturbingly real.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I received this book at no cost through the GR Giveaway program in the expectation of a review. According to the author, much of this book has been held in secrecy for 70 years. He had full access to the WWII archives of the Special Air Service, better known as the SAS. A damn shame if this is the first time some of these stories have been told. There is little here that would have compromised the post-1947 modern SAS (SAS was disbanded in ’45 and reborn a few years later). This book only deals I received this book at no cost through the GR Giveaway program in the expectation of a review. According to the author, much of this book has been held in secrecy for 70 years. He had full access to the WWII archives of the Special Air Service, better known as the SAS. A damn shame if this is the first time some of these stories have been told. There is little here that would have compromised the post-1947 modern SAS (SAS was disbanded in ’45 and reborn a few years later). This book only deals with the unit through the end of WWII. The brainchild of David Stirling (although he gives credit to Jock Lewes), the SAS gets a start in North Africa with the Brits fighting the Italians and Germans. The first mission, Operation Squatter, does not go well. (view spoiler)[ The wind had reached gale force by the time the bucking Bombays neared the Libyan coast, two and a half hours after take-off. Storm-driven sand and pelting rain completely obscured the flares on the ground, dropped by the Royal Air Force to guide the planes to the drop zone, 12 miles inland. The pilots could not even make out the shape of the shoreline. German searchlights on the coast picked out the incoming planes, and flak began exploding around them in blinding flashes. A shell ripped through the floor of one plane and missed the auxiliary fuel tank by inches. One of the sergeants made a joke which no one could hear, though, everyone grinned. The pilots indicated that the parachutists should prepare to jump—although, in truth, they were now flying blind, navigating by guesswork. The parachute-canisters were tossed out first containing explosives, tommy guns, ammunition, food, water, maps, blankets and medical supplies. Then, one by one, the men hurled themselves into the seething darkness. (hide spoiler)] Only 21 of 55 men return from the mission, having never fired a shot or caused any damage. Things go better later and the SAS grows into a formidable force, striking from the shadows and disappearing into the vast deserts. The men and the stories are epic, daring, crazy. Toward the end of the desert campaign, Stirling is captured by the Germans as he tries to link up with the US forces from Operation Torch. This had a major, negative impact on the SAS in the Italian campaign. The SAS is renamed the Special Raiding Squadron and (mis)used as commandos in Sicily and Italy. They suffer awful casualties assaulting various hard targets. This would continue throughout the war, at various times. Eventually, the SAS reappears, grows larger and is used in Europe starting on D-Day. The missions in Europe are tremendously aggressive. Hitler’s order to execute commandos takes a heavy toll of the SAS and allies fighting this new guerilla war. It was interesting to learn that the French were one of the SAS squadrons in North Africa, and would form 2 SAS regiments while the Belgians would have another when the war moved to Europe. The French SAS are occasionally mentioned and they were just as brave and daring (and crazy) as the Brits. Many stories are told of incredible daring and bravery. This book gets 4 Stars because it has no maps or photos. However, it is an uncorrected proof copy and I suspect the retail version with reference material would earn the fifth star. Recommended!

  3. 5 out of 5

    happy

    Mr. Macintyre has written a well-researched and engaging look at the British Special Air Service (SAS – the forerunner of modern Special Forces) in World War II. He follows them from their inception in the Egyptian Desert, the expansion into 2 regiments with different nationalities - although the author focuses on the British contingent, their work in the Italian campaign and finally their support of the D-Day landings and the final campaigns in Germany. In telling the story of their beginnings, Mr. Macintyre has written a well-researched and engaging look at the British Special Air Service (SAS – the forerunner of modern Special Forces) in World War II. He follows them from their inception in the Egyptian Desert, the expansion into 2 regiments with different nationalities - although the author focuses on the British contingent, their work in the Italian campaign and finally their support of the D-Day landings and the final campaigns in Germany. In telling the story of their beginnings, he looks at the personality of the founder of the unit – David Sterling. Sterling, a junior Guards officer, was a misfit in the tradition bound British army in Africa. He saw an opportunity for a specialized raiding force and had the political connections to be given the chance to form such a force. As Mr. Macintyre tells the formation story, he looks at the unusual training regimen for learning to parachute, (view spoiler)[ jumping out of the back of moving trucks because transport aircraft were in very short supply (hide spoiler)] , the unusual recruits they attracted, (view spoiler)[Churchill's son and Adm Jelico's son among others (hide spoiler)] . among other things. First designated Detachment L of the SAS, the author explains the reasoning behind the unit designation. (view spoiler)[The British military decided that by designating them L Detachment, the enemy might think there were a whole lot more of this type of unit (hide spoiler)] Eventually they became a very good asset for the British in North Africa, but their first attempt at a raid was an absolute disaster. They were supposed to parachute in and destroy an Axis airfield, but the weather was very bad. Sterling decided the raid must go on and the people jumping in along with their equipment and were scattered from "Hell to breakfast" as my mother used to say and unable to accomplish their tasks. More than half never made in back. This caused a rethinking of tactics and the airborne method of insertion was abandoned and the SAS formed a partnership with the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) to ferry them to their targets and back. This particular item was new to me, I had always thought the SAS and the LRDG were the same unit. The author does a very good job of telling of the SAS experiences in the Desert and how the dance between the Axis and the SAS went as the Germans/Italians adapted to the threat of the SAS on both airfields and port facilities and the SAS adapted back. As the Desert War ends, Mr. Macintyre looks at how the SAS was used in Italy. He feels that they were misused, becoming a much more conventional assault force and taking very heavy casualties as a result. The author then moves the story to Northern France and the D-Day landings. In this section, the author looks at how the SAS supported the French Underground and how that support assisted in delaying the march of the 2nd SS Panzer Division from Southern France to Normandy. In this role they run into Hitler’s commando execution order and at least 60 members of the SAS are summarily executed by German Forces. As the Allied forces break out of Normandy, how the SAS was used changes once again and they become the eyes and ears of the advancing Allied Armies ( okay mainly the British forces) In this role they are the first allied troops into the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. The story is especially heart breaking! The men of the SAS said they could smell the camp for miles before getting there and couldn’t figure out what it was. In addition to the combat record, the author does a good job of painting the personalities of various members of the SAS. These include LTC Sterling and his replacement as commander of the SAS after he is captured in Africa - Paddy Mayne. After the war the SAS is disbanded until the British military realizes the need for that type of unit in the Malaya insurgency and it is reactivated. All in all this is an excellent look at the beginnings of modern Special Forces and a really good read. 4.25 stars if Good Reads allowed so I rounded down

  4. 5 out of 5

    Charlie

    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 This is one of the best written books to explore the origins of the SAS and the first ever to do so with not only it’s blessing but full access to it’s library of notes, recordings, maps and an incredible amount of first hand accounts. It makes for compelling and unforgettable reading. It unflinchingly captures both the romance and the tragedy of being i 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 This is one of the best written books to explore the origins of the SAS and the first ever to do so with not only it’s blessing but full access to it’s library of notes, recordings, maps and an incredible amount of first hand accounts. It makes for compelling and unforgettable reading. It unflinchingly captures both the romance and the tragedy of being involved in the Special Forces. “It took one sort of courage to attack an enemy airfield in the middle of the night, but quite another to kill a little boy with his insides blown out” Indeed the hardest moments to read are the ones where the readers hope that this is all daring raids and heroic rescues is torn brutally apart by the death of a man whose passing simply does not fit the narrative. In the majority of fiction the good guys win and the bad guys lose, the side characters come and , but the one constant throughout this read was the loss of good men for no good reasons. Bad weather blowing entire planes off course and scattering the sticks, injured men having to be left in the desert or the jungle with their only hope of survival being capture; simply doing their jobs resulted in unfathomable losses. At any time proposing and implementing a new system of warfare has the potential to be a dangerous course of action but in the middle of a war the incredibly high stakes amplifies everything. Something new and untested is being attempted and it’s failure or success will have a huge bearing on both the direction of the war and the future existence of the Unit. Rogue Heroes is a powerful and unforgettable reading experience. Ben Macintyre does a superb job capturing the sense of adventure that inspired these men to fight a different way and the intensity and commitment with which they did so. Very highly recommended. 4.5 Stars

  5. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    This was an informative book about the SAS, the British Special Air Service, formed in WWII, in North Africa. It was the brainchild of David Stirling, an eccentric Scottish aristocrat who was not a very good soldier in the traditional sense. But his offbeat, unusual mind came up with the idea of a small mobile force that go behind German lines and wreak havoc on the unprepared Afrika Corps. Stirling was a terrible University student: "If he ever opened a book, the event was not recorded." He was This was an informative book about the SAS, the British Special Air Service, formed in WWII, in North Africa. It was the brainchild of David Stirling, an eccentric Scottish aristocrat who was not a very good soldier in the traditional sense. But his offbeat, unusual mind came up with the idea of a small mobile force that go behind German lines and wreak havoc on the unprepared Afrika Corps. Stirling was a terrible University student: "If he ever opened a book, the event was not recorded." He was contemptuous of mid-level military bureaucracy, referring to it as "layer upon layer of fossilized shit." How he managed to bypass this bureaucracy and start the SAS is the story of this book. The book is well written and easy to read. It does not go beyond WWII, except to explain that the SAS was disbanded from 1945-47. It still exists today. The author wrote this book with the cooperation of the SAS. I rate this book 3.5 out of 5 stars(rounded up to 4). Thanks to the publisher and LibraryThing for sending me this uncorrected proof copy. The table of contents lists a bibliography and a list of maps, which were not in this book. I believe that with the maps & bibliography, it would be a 4 star book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    Macintyre has a knack for finding outrageous stories from history and turning them into fascinating books that read like thrillers. This one is about the SAS, Britain’s secret fighting force that helped turn the tide of World War II and shaped how special forces units operate still to this day. I am always riveted by these tales! Backlist bump: Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Macintyre has a knack for finding outrageous stories from history and turning them into fascinating books that read like thrillers. This one is about the SAS, Britain’s secret fighting force that helped turn the tide of World War II and shaped how special forces units operate still to this day. I am always riveted by these tales! Backlist bump: Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books: http://bookriot.com/listen/shows/allt...

  7. 4 out of 5

    HBalikov

    You can look through a lot of World War II history books written between 1945 and the end of the 20th century and not find more than a mention of the S.A.S. This group consisted of a small number of British Army soldiers (later linked with other countries' forces) that were primarily functioning in North Africa during the time the Allies were battling with Rommel to control this vast territory. According to Ben Macintyre, their role and actions have required a high security clearance to review t You can look through a lot of World War II history books written between 1945 and the end of the 20th century and not find more than a mention of the S.A.S. This group consisted of a small number of British Army soldiers (later linked with other countries' forces) that were primarily functioning in North Africa during the time the Allies were battling with Rommel to control this vast territory. According to Ben Macintyre, their role and actions have required a high security clearance to review the documents that detail S.A.S. missions. Rogue Heroes may be the first book to look deeply and exclusively into their origins and how these troops may have affected the outcome of some familiar campaigns. This book goes into detail on the personalities involved in creating and running the S.A.S. By the way, the initials stand for Special Air Service, a total misnomer. It was meant to fool the Nazis into thinking that these guys were going to be parachuting behind enemy lines to do their damage. In fact, they spent a lot of the early war in North Africa doing sabotage (using whatever transportation was available) on Rommel’s supply lines and generally trying to keep the Nazis distracted while Montgomery and the main British/Allied armies tried to counterattack and prevent a complete Nazi takeover of North Africa from Algeria to Egypt. As a veteran of “rat patrol” dramatizations, I was glad to note how fair and balanced Macintyre makes his book. There is no attempt to make the S.A.S. more than it was – a very limited number of action-oriented soldiers who were willing to go into high-risk situations and create havoc. Many of them were captured and not treated well. Many of them had narrow escapes. The story concerning Corporal “Jack” Sillito grabbed and held my attention. Sillito was part of a small group trying to sabotage a rail line being used by the Nazis. They came under attack by a night patrol and in the battle he became separated. He didn’t know if any of his comrades had survived, been taken prisoner or killed. He had only a few items, no weapon, just a compass and a small canteen of water meant to last less than 24 hours. His choice was between surrendering or trying to make it across 180 miles of desert (not a typo) to where the rest of his S.A.S. group was camped. In choosing the latter, he endured some incredible experiences, near capture, heat stroke and was finally found barely alive almost two weeks later. Most of his buddies never made it back, and he never was the same. Macintyre provides new details about this legendary WWII group and presents their goals and accomplishments in a way that never seems to compromise historical accuracy while relating the details in a compelling narrative. There is more to the history of the S.A.S. (known for its covert reconnaissance, raids and surveillance) because the UK has resurrected it several times, but if you are interested, this book is the place to begin.

  8. 4 out of 5

    A.L. Sowards

    Five big stars for this book! I loved MacIntyre’s telling of the founding and WWII service of the SAS. It’s quite the story, and MacIntyre does an excellent job showing both successes and setbacks. He chooses a cast that is wide enough to cover the story, but small enough for a reader to follow. The men, like their mission, were unconventional, complicated, flawed, interesting, and sometimes very funny. The SAS began in the deserts of North Africa, focused on attacking Axis air fields and suppli Five big stars for this book! I loved MacIntyre’s telling of the founding and WWII service of the SAS. It’s quite the story, and MacIntyre does an excellent job showing both successes and setbacks. He chooses a cast that is wide enough to cover the story, but small enough for a reader to follow. The men, like their mission, were unconventional, complicated, flawed, interesting, and sometimes very funny. The SAS began in the deserts of North Africa, focused on attacking Axis air fields and supplies. The thinking was that a few men could cause a lot of havoc for the Germans and Italians. If they were successful, they would help the Allied war effort. If they weren’t successful, well, it was a comparatively small gamble in terms of lives and equipment. The SAS didn’t always succeed, but they succeeded often enough to make a difference. Their partnership with the Long Range Desert Group helped them appear where the enemy wasn’t expecting them to blow up planes and fuel. Some of their exploits were jaw-dropping. The enemy gradually changed their defenses, and the SAS changed their tactics. The SAS was a persistent thorn in the enemies’ side, so effective that Hitler issued his infamous commando order calling for the summary execution of any Allied commandos and parachutists who were caught, even if caught while in uniform. After the desert war, the SAS played roles in Italy, France, and Germany. They gathered information and struck the Nazis from within enemy lines. Their success took a toll, on the enemy, but also on the SAS men—physically and mentally. When the war ended, the SAS was disbanded. But only for a few years. The unconventional warfare they fought was soon recognized as valuable, and the SAS was reborn. They are the model for most Special Forces units in existence today. Note: I won an arc of this book on Goodreads a few years ago. But for the last while, I haven’t been getting to much in the way of nonfiction (in paper form) unless it’s related to one of my current research projects, so the book is still sitting on my bookshelf. I listened to the audiobook instead. The audiobook is read by the author. Not only is MacIntyre a talented author, but he’s also a talented narrator.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nigeyb

    I loved the other books I've read by Ben Macintyre so when I heard about Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War I was keen to read it. Whilst not as jaw dropping as Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal, or as edge-of-the-seat thrilling as Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory, it's nevertheless an absorbing read. Be I loved the other books I've read by Ben Macintyre so when I heard about Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War I was keen to read it. Whilst not as jaw dropping as Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal, or as edge-of-the-seat thrilling as Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory, it's nevertheless an absorbing read. Ben Macintyre was the first person to be given full access to the Special Air Service (SAS) library which contained a wealth of varied and detailed information. By its nature, a WW2 history of the SAS lacks the compelling narrative which makes his other work so gripping but yet still contains some great anecdotes and memorable characters and - if you're interested in WW2 history - is well worth seeking out.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Laura Noggle

    So much fun! Officially, officially obsessed with Ben Macintyre and his real-life spy/adventure sagas!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    They Broke the Mold “At 9:15 p.m., in pitch darkness, they [SAS team leader Bill Fraser and a small group of men] reached the airfield perimeter and slipped through the fence, carefully stepping over some tripwire booby traps; over the next thirty minutes they planted thirty-seven bombs, with staggered timers to ensure that all exploded at roughly the same moment…. The first bomb went off at forty-two minutes past midnight, followed by three more in quick succession as the attackers scrambled off They Broke the Mold “At 9:15 p.m., in pitch darkness, they [SAS team leader Bill Fraser and a small group of men] reached the airfield perimeter and slipped through the fence, carefully stepping over some tripwire booby traps; over the next thirty minutes they planted thirty-seven bombs, with staggered timers to ensure that all exploded at roughly the same moment…. The first bomb went off at forty-two minutes past midnight, followed by three more in quick succession as the attackers scrambled off the airfield…. The next morning…Fraser was summoned to report to the brigadier. ‘Sorry, Sir, I had to leave two aircraft on the ground as I ran out of explosives, but we destroyed thirty-seven.” This is but one of dozens of episodes vividly rendered by Ben Macintyre in his latest book, which as its long subtitle declares, chronicles the history of the SAS, the unit that “sabotaged the Nazis and changed the nature of war.” This is no small claim, and Macintyre buttresses it with details drawn from the voluminous SAS regimental archives. He recounts the genesis of the unit, then moves on to its first (and often unsuccessful) baby steps in the African campaign, then on to later developments in the European theater, primarily Italy and Germany. In his preface, Macintyre outlines his stance on the SAS: “While many members of the wartime SAS exhibited extraordinary qualities, they were also human: flawed, occasionally cruel, and capable of making spectacular mistakes. The SAS has become a legend, but the true story contains darkness as well as light, tragedy and evil alongside heroism; it is a tale of unparalleled bravery and ingenuity, interspersed with moments of rank incompetence, raw brutality and touching human frailty.” He also notes that while the history of the SAS is a “rattling adventure story,” he sought to reveal the “psychology of secret, unconventional warfare,” and the “reactions of ordinary people in extraordinary wartime circumstances.” Above all, he notes, “This is a book about the meaning of courage.” Thus, Rogue Heroes focuses on individuals as well as attacks and campaigns. The men of SAS were a colorful lot, and Macintyre demonstrates a flair for the quick character study. (This I much appreciated, as it helped me remember who was who in the extensive cast of SAS figures.) First and foremost was Lieutenant David Stirling, the founder of the SAS, an unfailingly polite but unconventional man. Stirling, scion of a famous Scottish family with deep connections in both the aristocracy and the upper echelons of the military, was initially regarded as “impertinent, incompetent, and profoundly irritating” by both his fellow officers and his superiors, yet he was endowed at the same time with phenomenal powers of concentration and great ingenuity. While recovering in a hospital from his disastrous first parachute jump, Stirling came up with a vision that he then refined and zealously promoted: a unique fighting force with unprecedented independence and special skills, one made up of “fighters who were exceptionally brave but just short of irresponsible; disciplined but independent-minded; uncomplaining, unconventional and, when necessary, merciless.” Such men are not easily controlled, but then Stirling, whose contradictory traits rivalled those of his ideal soldiers, proved an inspired leader. Macintyre is in his element as he gives thumbnail sketches of Stirling’s SAS recruits. Aside from Stirling, perhaps the most pivotal man was Paddy Mayne, a massive Irishman who had played for Ireland’s national rugby team. When sober, he seemed subdued and thoughtful, but Paddy was transformed by drink into a raging bull. Mayne led some of the most successful SAS attacks, but his actions in battle sometimes demonstrated almost suicidal bravery and at other times cold-blooded murder. Indeed, the SAS had more than its fair share of stone-cold killers, and the author does not romanticize or gloss over some of the more sordid and violent chapters in the unit’s history. But the dark characters in this book are leavened by lighter ones, such as Captain Bob Walker-Brown, “who had joined the SAS after successfully tunnelling out of an Italian POW camp, crawling to liberty through the main sewer and then walking to Allied lines. He had an enormous moustache, a bluff sense of humour, an upper-class accent so fruity that the men barely understood his commands, and a habit of saying ‘what, what’ after every sentence, thus earning himself the nickname, ‘Captain What What.’” Another was the first chaplain to the SAS, the Rev. Fraser McLuskey, “the parachute padre” who was found lying unconscious in a tree after his maiden jump. He was “a cheerful, self-mocking Scot with a wide, open face and an unshakeable, deeply examined faith,” and he tirelessly looked after the welfare of the men, helping treat the wounded, offering tea, cigarettes, paperback thrillers, or simply listening unjudgementally. McLuskey, who decided not to carry a gun, mused, “I think the men were glad to see the padre as a kind of symbol of the will of God for peace for all men.” The author, however, notes that “A man who fights with a gun can be brave, but a man who opts to take part in a shooting war without one may be braver still.” Just as diverse as the soldiers were the many campaigns they engaged in. Essentially, each chapter of the book is a concise narrative of a major operation undertaken by the SAS. As these were generally carried out by small groups, there are brief synopses of the key figures involved, followed by a dramatic recounting of the action. Although this renders the structure of the book episodic, it is engrossing nontheless, particularly as the accounts are laced with flashes of humor and genuine drama. In fact, I found myself wondering how many of these exploits had already been mined (or will be mined) by Hollywood scripwriters. Some operations were spectacular successes, while others were catastrophes. Macintyre, to his credit, cites the role that luck and German/Italian failings played in some of the successes, while he is equally objective in acknowledging the flaws leading to the failures. As promised, he cleaves to his goal of telling the unvarnished truth. Macintyre characterizes the early fighting in Africa as a “gentleman’s war,” but this gave way to more savage and chaotic conditions when SAS operations shifted to Europe in the late stages of the war. The very success of the SAS tactics, which inflicted heavy losses upon and demoralized the Germans, led Hitler to issue his infamous “Commando Order,” which stipulated that any captured enemy soldiers found operating behind German lines would immediately be shot. Aside from fighting with what amounted to a death sentence if captured, the SAS was now fighting alongside various European partisan forces, who were a mixed bag, often poorly trained and equipped, prone to endless infighting and, on more than one occasion, betrayed by spies and informants. As Allied forces drove the Germans into their homeland, “the tide of war turned in a welter of recriminations and blood-letting,” and the SAS, who had in the past laid ambushes for the enemy, now found themselves being ambushed, sometimes by civilians. One of the final scenes in the SAS’s European war took place when an SAS team on a reconnaissance foray became the first Allied soldiers to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In one of the most sobering chapters of the book, Macintyre describes the horrifying conditions the SAS men witnessed. One soldier wrote starkly, “This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.” I have read most of Ben Macintyre’s work and enjoyed virtually all of it, yet this book, with its great sweep taking in the gamut/gauntlet of the SAS soldiers’ experience, is to my mind his most ambitious yet. He doesn’t claim to have penned the full and definitive history of the SAS during WWII, but I believe he made good on his promise to disclose “darkness as well as light, tragedy and evil alongside heroism.” Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book through the GoodReads “First Read” giveaway program. While I was told that writing a review was optional, I am happy to share my honest opinion on this latest work by one of my favorite nonfiction authors.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cheese

    A fantasticly well researched and written book. I can't stand books that over dramatise events and embelish them to get more drama out of them. This didn't need embelishing, the writer kept the balance throughout. Astonishing tales of suicidal heroism and extremely moving tragedy on a regular basis make this book a must read. It really makes you appreciate the idea that was the creation of the SAS, and how change can change the world for the better. A lone unit deployed behind enemy lines, to caus A fantasticly well researched and written book. I can't stand books that over dramatise events and embelish them to get more drama out of them. This didn't need embelishing, the writer kept the balance throughout. Astonishing tales of suicidal heroism and extremely moving tragedy on a regular basis make this book a must read. It really makes you appreciate the idea that was the creation of the SAS, and how change can change the world for the better. A lone unit deployed behind enemy lines, to cause absolute havoc and destroy the enemies moral. If these brave men didn't exist, I think the world would be a different place today.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    I liked this, so three stars. I liked the history of this particular time frame. It really is interesting how things all played out and fell into place. They were tenacious even when things didn't work. I enjoyed that part of it...the indomitable spirit. So now with that being said, this was a little dry especially the beginning. But once I fell into its rhythm, it worked for me. I liked this, so three stars. I liked the history of this particular time frame. It really is interesting how things all played out and fell into place. They were tenacious even when things didn't work. I enjoyed that part of it...the indomitable spirit. So now with that being said, this was a little dry especially the beginning. But once I fell into its rhythm, it worked for me.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Really enjoyed this both exhaustive and episodic history of Britain's renegade special forces and the crazy risks they took in North Africa and Europe to help defeat Nazi Germany. Really enjoyed this both exhaustive and episodic history of Britain's renegade special forces and the crazy risks they took in North Africa and Europe to help defeat Nazi Germany.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    I love Ben Macintyre - I think I have four or five of his books on my shelf, and I love the way he blends personal details with gripping narrative non-fiction. I think he's one of the best in the business. Which is why it pains me to say this is not his best work. All the hallmarks are there, but there's just something missing. I think it's due to profiling an organization as opposed to specific individuals - some flamboyant characters rise out of the soup of tactics and division names, but not e I love Ben Macintyre - I think I have four or five of his books on my shelf, and I love the way he blends personal details with gripping narrative non-fiction. I think he's one of the best in the business. Which is why it pains me to say this is not his best work. All the hallmarks are there, but there's just something missing. I think it's due to profiling an organization as opposed to specific individuals - some flamboyant characters rise out of the soup of tactics and division names, but not enough to craft a really compelling narrative. Still, mediocre Macintyre is better than most.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    A nice account of the early years of the SAS in World War II with a distinctly British sense of humor that made reading it a joy. Most of the time is spent on defining the characters during the North African desert campaign and then following them through the (spoiler alert) liberation of Europe. I'm sure someone could have written a 700 page version of this history but I appreciated the fast pace, emphasis on personalities over battle specifics, and the in-depth research done by the author to p A nice account of the early years of the SAS in World War II with a distinctly British sense of humor that made reading it a joy. Most of the time is spent on defining the characters during the North African desert campaign and then following them through the (spoiler alert) liberation of Europe. I'm sure someone could have written a 700 page version of this history but I appreciated the fast pace, emphasis on personalities over battle specifics, and the in-depth research done by the author to pull out lots of interesting trivia and anecdotes. The only improvement I would have made is to just make the book about the desert since it made for the most interesting material. But the subsequent sections, especially the ones where they sneak into occupied cities in regular cars was highly enjoyable. I strongly recommend this for military history fans.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Glen

    I won an ARC of this book in a goodreads drawing. A wonderful history of the origins of the SAS, which reads a lot like an Alistair MacLean novel.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Never in the field of human conflict has so much been destroyed by so many - misfits, rogues, psychopaths, traitors, savants, and all out geniuses - yet known by so few. So goes the wartime history of the early SAS, and told from their own archives never before opened up to a historian. Like the saying goes, you couldn't make this stuff up! Never in the field of human conflict has so much been destroyed by so many - misfits, rogues, psychopaths, traitors, savants, and all out geniuses - yet known by so few. So goes the wartime history of the early SAS, and told from their own archives never before opened up to a historian. Like the saying goes, you couldn't make this stuff up!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mindy

    This was an amazing book! I am not a reader of non-fiction and I’m not sure how this book even found me but I’m so glad it did. I learned so much about the founding of the British SAS (Special Air Service) during WWll. They were brave, resourceful and essential to the war. There were lots of difficult parts to read but also important.

  20. 5 out of 5

    AnnaG

    This is a frank and comprehensive account of the SAS during WWII presenting their successes and failures, their brilliance and flaws. They were clearly a remarkable group of men at a remarkable time.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julian Douglass

    What a wonderful history of not only the SAS, but of how it changed warfare and the unique nature of guerrilla warfare in WWII. I love Mr. MacIntyre’s descriptive nature of the characters and the setting of both the desert and Europe. I also enjoy his writing style, especially when it gives each mission a hint of suspense even though we all know the outcome. I enjoyed reading this book because of the whimsical nature of the group too, and the fact that some of the greatest achievements in war we What a wonderful history of not only the SAS, but of how it changed warfare and the unique nature of guerrilla warfare in WWII. I love Mr. MacIntyre’s descriptive nature of the characters and the setting of both the desert and Europe. I also enjoy his writing style, especially when it gives each mission a hint of suspense even though we all know the outcome. I enjoyed reading this book because of the whimsical nature of the group too, and the fact that some of the greatest achievements in war were the cause of a wild idea or something that was so stupid and crazy they just had to try it knowing it could fail and cause major harm to the allied cause.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    Well written, interesting, and sometimes humorous account of the SAS. There was some language when he was quoting people as well as some sexual innuendos. Overall very informative and engaging.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    The incredible untold story of WWII s greatest secret fighting force, as told by our great modern master of wartime intrigue Britain s Special Air Service or SAS was the brainchild of David Stirling, a young, gadabout aristocrat whose aimlessness in early life belied a remarkable strategic mind. Where most of his colleagues looked at a battlefield map of World War II s African theater and saw a protracted struggle with Rommel s desert forces, Stirling saw an opportunity: given a small numbe The incredible untold story of WWII s greatest secret fighting force, as told by our great modern master of wartime intrigue Britain s Special Air Service or SAS was the brainchild of David Stirling, a young, gadabout aristocrat whose aimlessness in early life belied a remarkable strategic mind. Where most of his colleagues looked at a battlefield map of World War II s African theater and saw a protracted struggle with Rommel s desert forces, Stirling saw an opportunity: given a small number of elite, well-trained men, he could parachute behind enemy lines and sabotage their airplanes and war material. Paired with his constitutional opposite, the disciplined martinet Jock Lewes, Stirling assembled a revolutionary fighting force that would upend not just the balance of the war, but the nature of combat itself. He faced no little resistance from those who found his tactics ungentlemanly or beyond the pale, but in the SAS s remarkable exploits facing the Nazis in the Africa and then on the Continent can be found the seeds of nearly all special forces units that would follow. Bringing his keen eye for psychological detail to a riveting wartime narrative, Ben Macintyre uses his unprecedented access to SAS archives to shine a light inside a legendary unit long shrouded in secrecy. The result is not just a tremendous war story, but a fascinating group portrait of men of whom history and country asked the most What did I think: five stars First off I want to that this is an authorized history ,not an official one and that the author himself worked with and was aided by the SAS Regimental Association at every stage of its production, now that I've said that lets get to what I thought of the book, at first I wasn't sure if I wanted to pick it up , I have nothing against the book but at the time I kept thinking I already had a big TBR for October, but the more I kept coming back to read the synopsis of it I already know that I was going to request it and see if I could get a copy to review , one of the things that made me want to take it up was that the synopsis it kept bring to my mind my all time favorite WW2 movie called The Devil's Brigade ( 1968) that's about the 1st elite American-Canadian commando unit in World War II, under command of the United States Fifth Army. Which our modern American and Canadian special operations forces can trace their heritage to that unit, this book isn't about them but about Britain's Secret Special Forces which to this day is the grandfather to the US Delta Force and Nave Seals and with out them we would never have those types of heroes. and just like the movie The Devil's Brigade movie is a movie you have to watch ,this is a book that any WW2 buff will have to pick up and add to their book shelf, because its a great reference source for a group (the SAS) that's not well known or recognized. Plus the author himself doesn't just stick to conspiracy and espionage aspects of their story , he brings to life the more straightforward military history of the SAS in its first incarnation , and creation , to the solders that joined and the ones that lost their lives , to the ones that was captured and lost , to the their missions whither they was a successful or not, to the lives they lived doing and between missions , the friend ships that grew ,and so much more, so once again I can not tell you that this is a book that need to be read, so go and pick it up either for your self or for a friend or family member. say that I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for my honest opinion and review and that these are 100 % my own thoughts to what is truly a great book

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

    A well-written, compelling and very readable history of the SAS during the war, told through the experiences of several members. Macintyre begins with Stirling’s concept in North Africa and tells how it grew from a handful of eccentric, ill-disciplined men into five regiments (British, French and Belgian), as well as how it evolved from Stirling’s idea of a behind-the-lines raiding outfit to a more regular frontline commando force after Stirling was captured, and then back again to a raiding outf A well-written, compelling and very readable history of the SAS during the war, told through the experiences of several members. Macintyre begins with Stirling’s concept in North Africa and tells how it grew from a handful of eccentric, ill-disciplined men into five regiments (British, French and Belgian), as well as how it evolved from Stirling’s idea of a behind-the-lines raiding outfit to a more regular frontline commando force after Stirling was captured, and then back again to a raiding outfit in northwestern Europe. Macintyre describes the experiences of famous recruits like Churchill’s son Randolph (whose letters helped make Churchill a s supporter of the outfit) He describes the unit’s role in sabotaging Axis airfields in North Africa and liberating Bergen-Belsen, and does a great job fleshing out Stirling’s vision, stubbornness, and flexibility. The narrative is accessible and very engaging, if a bit episodic; it can transition abruptly, and Macintyre’s coverage of the group’s many operations can make it can read like a tedious travelogue at times. Also, he doesn’t really connect the SAS’s operations to the larger war effort, and doesn’t really cover in detail the SAS’s ultimate impact or its postwar fate. Some more material on their recruitment and training process would have helped. At one point certain glider troops are called “paratroopers.” Also, there aren’t any footnotes. A clear, vivid, and well-researched work.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Huck

    I read this book while Aleppo was under siege and finally fell on 13 December 2016. With thousands and thousands of innocents slaughtered in the ruins of their destroyed homes while the whole world was watching, I found it hard to accept that the author doesn't tackle a single one of the many pressing questions concerning the "guerilla tactics" the SAS so famously adopted for warefare. MacIntyre seems to have stuck completely to the testimony of the SAS and other military. This makes for a quite I read this book while Aleppo was under siege and finally fell on 13 December 2016. With thousands and thousands of innocents slaughtered in the ruins of their destroyed homes while the whole world was watching, I found it hard to accept that the author doesn't tackle a single one of the many pressing questions concerning the "guerilla tactics" the SAS so famously adopted for warefare. MacIntyre seems to have stuck completely to the testimony of the SAS and other military. This makes for a quite repetitive read, with one ambush followed by another secret attack again and again. The troubled personalities of some of his protagonists - finding out more about which has drawn me to this book in the first place - remain relatively obscure. MacIntyre didn't dare or have the time to put his heroes into historical perspective (the changes in warefare the SAS initiated _and_ experienced likewise seem to just "happen"), to explain their actions by relating them to a certain Zeitgeist (we don't learn about that either) or a certain model of manhood or the changing images of the soldier. For me, this was hagiography for the SAS. Some of the men delivered typically British puns and showed a sense of humour that made me laugh out loud, so I can somehow understand that one can get carried away a little. But I would recommend the book only to militaria-enthusiasts.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I received this book through a Goodreads "First-Reads" Giveaway. I would give this 3.5 stars if possible. An engaging history of Britain's Special Air Service (the SAS), which operated behind enemy lines during World War 2, conducting sabotage and disrupting supply lines. I particularly enjoyed the first half of the book, which focused on the young officer, David Stirling, who founded the unit and SAS's early exploits in North Africa (which in many cases were quite amateurish and disastrous for I received this book through a Goodreads "First-Reads" Giveaway. I would give this 3.5 stars if possible. An engaging history of Britain's Special Air Service (the SAS), which operated behind enemy lines during World War 2, conducting sabotage and disrupting supply lines. I particularly enjoyed the first half of the book, which focused on the young officer, David Stirling, who founded the unit and SAS's early exploits in North Africa (which in many cases were quite amateurish and disastrous for the SAS as opposed to the Germans and Italians). The evolution of the unit and its changing tactics during that first year of operations was quite fascinating. I thought the book bogged down somewhat once the unit was shifted to Europe (much like the Allied offensive in late 1944:)). But all in all a good read, and certainly recommended without question if you are already a fan of Mr. Macintyre's other books or enjoy military history written at the micro-level with lots of "you are there" descriptions of small unit engagements.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Relstuart

    The SAS began as a small unit dedicated to going behind enemy lines and blowing up their planes or other things. This history of that unit captures the people and their challenges fairly well and includes lots of smaller stories and events to keep things interesting.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    Yet another well researched and written book. It was interesting to learn about this section of the military that was formed with a bunch of rag-tag people that all worked together to defeat the Nazi regime. It was shocking and disturbing to learn of Hitler's barbaric Commando Order, the random and not-so-random killings (murders?) of both sides of the conflicts, treatment of residents of the various cities in Europe. Seems lessons have not been learned as various wars continue - right? The book Yet another well researched and written book. It was interesting to learn about this section of the military that was formed with a bunch of rag-tag people that all worked together to defeat the Nazi regime. It was shocking and disturbing to learn of Hitler's barbaric Commando Order, the random and not-so-random killings (murders?) of both sides of the conflicts, treatment of residents of the various cities in Europe. Seems lessons have not been learned as various wars continue - right? The book piqued my interest as my uncle fought against Rommel's forces in the desert and once that war was won, moved onto Italy. He never spoke of either conflict upon his return to Canada. If you like Macintyre's books and historical fiction, I'd recommend this one.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dolf Patijn

    This was an interesting read about a group of unusual soldiers. As soldiers you're normally expected to follow orders and not to think for yourself. These guys had to improvise and make decisions on the spot in often difficult circumstances. It is a great and well-written homage to a group of people who helped to win the Second World War. Highly recommended. This was an interesting read about a group of unusual soldiers. As soldiers you're normally expected to follow orders and not to think for yourself. These guys had to improvise and make decisions on the spot in often difficult circumstances. It is a great and well-written homage to a group of people who helped to win the Second World War. Highly recommended.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Barry Hammond

    Ben Macintyre has now joined the ranks of those authors whose writing I will read automatically, not caring what subject matter he treats, because I know whatever he finds interesting I will, too. His book on the Kim Philby betrayal, A Spy Among Friends, was the best I have read on that particular subject (and I have read several highly acclaimed versions) because of his keen insight into the psychology of the players, his knowledge and understanding of the times, his original research, and the Ben Macintyre has now joined the ranks of those authors whose writing I will read automatically, not caring what subject matter he treats, because I know whatever he finds interesting I will, too. His book on the Kim Philby betrayal, A Spy Among Friends, was the best I have read on that particular subject (and I have read several highly acclaimed versions) because of his keen insight into the psychology of the players, his knowledge and understanding of the times, his original research, and the clarity and depth of the writing. He applies these same qualities to his story about the origins of the SAS special forces unit in World War II desert warfare. It's the story of a group of unique and eccentric people who envisioned a different type of warfare and whose success and failures blazed a trail that would be followed by many modern units such as US Delta Force and Navy Seals. He handles a complex story containing many characters with a rare clarity, not shying away from the darker sides of the story and human costs involved. A writer of rare and penetrating honesty and a terrific story. BH.

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