- Lawrence Patterson
- ARRSE Rating
- 4 Mushroom Heads
Foreword by Maj. General Adrian Freer
This book is a historical record of the first British paratroop attack of WW2. First impressions are that the book is a good quality hardback printed on heavy paper with a nice dust jacket which will look good on the shelf. As for most books of this type, the Operation is covered in chronological order.
Britain was almost 6 years behind Germany and Russia in the training and deployment of paratroops and effectively had to start from scratch in developing the capability. The book describes the formation of the “Special Air Service” or properly “Parachute Commando” unit and the jump training at Ringway (Manchester Airport) and practice drops over Tatton Park.
The RAF supplied Whitley bombers for the duty, an aircraft not well suited being cramped and with a difficult jump chute. Various issues are covered and solutions or work-arounds put in place. There were numerous issues with equipment since, for example, parachutes had only previously been used (in Britain) for aircraft escape and these were too small for fully laden troops. In fact, almost the entire training regime was invented from scratch and many equipment items adapted. This will be of interest to anyone who has jump training.
The purpose of the raid was to destroy an aqueduct supplying water to the Bari region of Italy, thus depriving the area of drinking water. The raid itself suffered from several issues, principally very limited and inaccurate reconnaissance of the target and immediate area. The escape route and plan were sketchy to say the least in particular with respect to the mountainous terrain, cold of the Italian winter and the opposition of the local population. The escape plan involved a 50 mile trek through enemy held territory to rendezvous with a submarine. Two Italian nationals accompanied the raid as interpreters in British uniform.
A considerable amount of equipment hung up in the bomb bays and could not be released due to poor design of the containers, and one aircraft dropped one of the teams several miles from the target. Once again the difficulties of making a co-ordinated drop had been underestimated under battle conditions.
Although the objective was achieved in the main part, none of the paras made it to the coast and the damage was repaired in a few days. Hopefully that’s not too much of a spoiler as the outcome was predictable. The travails and repeated escape attempts of the captured troops are covered quite well. Overall the Italians were not a pushover as is often popularly depicted by Hollywood and at that stage of the war, the civilian population was still very much pro-Mussolini.
Whilst it’s clear that a number of very good lessons were learned for future operations, the operation was pretty much a waste of highly trained men who ended up as POWs. Indeed, even the after raid publicity was poorly managed and could have been more effective. Churchill was not impressed and it took sleight of hand at a later demonstration to get him fully on board.
The latter quarter of the book covers the aftermath of the raid and the ongoing development of airborne assault troops and, of course the genesis of the SAS as we know it. Chapter 8 of the book analyses the effect of the raid including the vital improvements made to equipment and operations. This chapter also covers some of the subsequent adventures of the para in captivity and escaping. One criticism is that this section of the book repeats some of the stories told earlier.
Overall, the book is well written with not too much jargon to confuse the non-military expert reader. I personally enjoyed this and would recommend it as a good read.