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SAS; Shadow Raiders

SAS; Shadow Raiders

Damien Lewis
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
Italy, 1941 and the first operational mission for 11 S.A.S. A group of ancient Whitley bombers, hastily adapted to carry troops flew from Malta to a point in Italy. A plane had been concocted with the aid of SOE to destroy a viaduct that carried water to towns and villages. It was believed that the destruction of this, and the consequent flooding it occasioned, would not only hamper the Italian war effort but would also strike fear into the heart of the Italian chain of command, that the allies could strike in their heartland. Operation Colossus was underway.

Again in 1941, a lone recce Spitfire, unarmed, saw a strange device on the cliffs of France, near Le Havre. This was a convex dish-shaped object, and appeared to be pointing toward Britain. British cities had taken a bloody and damaging pounding from enemy bombing, and allied raids were intercepted with uncanny accuracy. Could this be some sort of radar? There was a mindset of denial; radar was very much a British thing, after all, had we not the great towers that showed enemy planes approaching? Decoded 'Enigma' messages showed that this new device was a terrible threat and something must be done about it.

Eventually, a raid was planned, to be led by Major Johnny Frost and composed of a mixed crew of airborne and other arms. There were even civilians involved in the attack, and the need for current intelligence meant that SOE and the resistance were heavily involved in the most dangerous gathering of information to date.

I always enjoy Damien Lewis' books and this is no exception. His research is meticulous and the narrative flows like a novel. I think most of us are familiar with the formation and beginnings of the Special Air Service; David Stirling and his desert raiders. This book tells of the forerunner to that organisation, 11 SAS, formed in answer to Churchill's exhortation 'to set Europe alight'. I was unaware that we had formed a British 'SS', however totally different to the German one. This meant 'Special Service' and was an unfortunate - and short-lived - acronym.

The book contains details culled from many sources, not least some that were highly classified until very recently and told me of things that I knew not. It's a good read and a book that deserves a place on any shelf.

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