Auto Ads by Adsense

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Review: Rogue Heroes - The History of the SAS

After reading the brilliant The Spy and the Traitor, I went back and picked up Rogue Heroes from the library, hoping for another great read. After all, the SAS was the first "special-forces" unit anywhere in the world, and some of its original members might still be alive and available for interviews.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Macintyre's research this time came mostly from the War Dairies, the log and and action reports from service officers and NCOs. The kind of people who volunteer for special forces service aren't the introspective types and were unlikely to be the types to write well. Now, most of WW2's war fighters were conscripts, so early on in the war there were professors of Philosophy amongst the troops. One of them wrote a poem which became known as the "Paratrooper's Prayer":
Martin came across a notebook, in which Zirnheld had written a poem. It has since become known as the “paratroopers’ prayer,” and was adopted as the official poem of French airborne forces. I ask you, O Lord, to give me What I cannot obtain for myself. Give me, my Lord, what you have left. Give me what no one asks of you. I do not ask for repose Nor for tranquillity Of body or soul. I ask not for riches, Nor success, nor even health. My Lord, you are asked for such things so much That you cannot have any more of them. Give me, my God, what you have left. Give me what others don’t want. I want uncertainty and doubt. I want torment and battle. And give them to me absolutely, O Lord, So that I can be sure of having them always. For I will not always have the courage To ask for them from you. Give me, my God, what you have left. Give me what others do not want. But give me also the bravery, And the strength and the faith. For these are the things, O Lord, That only you can give. (Kindle Loc. 2471)
 Aside from occasional gems like this, unfortunately, the rest of the narrative is bone dry, without much tension. Many of the SAS's early strikes were fiascos, including a "reflective-of-bad-judgement" parachute drop in the middle of a thunderstorm which resulted in unnecessary death and no impact on the enemy. The SAS, ironically, ended up getting driven to their attack sites by the Long Range Desert Group instead for their early success.

The organizational history behind the SAS is also interesting, basically with David Stirling being one of the aristocrats using his connections so he could do whatever he liked. An examination of his merits probably would have had someone else running the show, but the British military sociology at that time (and quite possibly even now) being what it is, it would take someone in the upper class to be able to get the remit to form an out-of-the-box unit anyway. Stirling would get himself captured in an operation and spent much of the war as a POW, though he was apparently the POW with the most number of escape attempts. True to form, he escaped a lot, but staying escaped was apparently not his strong suit.

The book covers the entire WW2 campaign, including the work in Italy, France, and Germany. The travails the men of the SAS suffered was nothing short of astounding, and the casualties and betrays are described in detail, but with none of the verve in Macintyre's previous books. The book doesn't cover how the SAS approach led to modern day special forces, though it does mention the formation of Delta Force as a result of an exchange program with the US.

I'd still recommend the book as it does make good reading. Just don't expect the level of quality that's in Macintyre's other books. Macintyre's first love is espionage, and it clearly shows.

No comments: