The Long Range Desert Group: History and Legacy

The Long Range Desert Group: History and Legacy

Karl-Gunnar Noren and Lars Gyllenhaal
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
The Long Range Desert Group: History and Legacy by Karl-Gunnar Noren and Lars Gyllenhaal is a history of the formation and formative years of the Long Range Desert Group. For those who don’t know who the LRDG were, they were precursors to the SAS (and supported them at the start) and started as a raiding group and then developed specialist road-watch skills to support operational intelligence gathering.

This book is a labour of love, no two ways about it. Noren and Gyllenhaal are LRDG enthusiasts of the first order, as demonstrated by the second half of the book. This is where they re-enact a classic LRDG journey in World War II-era jeeps (with Egyptian Army protection against the risk of kidnap and murder), finding LRDG vehicles and equipment abandoned in the war. Their knowledge of LRDG activities is encyclopaedic and you cannot fault their knowledge of the LRDG not their passion for the subject.

The authors explain the formation of the LRDG and its founder, Reginald Bagnold, in accessible detail. Bagnold’s inter-war journeys into the Western Desert, combined with his fortuitous presence in Egypt in 1941, are brought to life as his drive to establish the LRDG. There is a suitable degree of technical detail (from the right trucks and weapons to the correct diet and how to use a sun compass) but it’s pitched at level even duffers like me can follow.

The LRDG was formed to deny the Italians freedom of action by using the desert as both a transit route and a base location (at key oases). This meant driving across the Sand Seas which only the likes of Bagnold had done before so as to be able to surprise Italian (and later German) forces and strike where no British forces were expected. This role later expanded into supporting other SF units (most notably the SAS) and conducting reconnaissance (most frequently road watch tasks to observe Axis rear-area movements). The authors explain this clearly and with a significant amount of detail about the individuals in the LRDG (including some of the eye-watering attempts to walk out of the desert after operations had gone wrong). Unfortunately, the LRDG actions after the end of the fighting in North Africa are not covered and you get a sense that the authors are more interested in the desert era than the subsequent actions in the Mediterranean, the Balkans and Greece and these are referenced hastily in a couple of sentences.

This book is great. If you want to get a sense of the early days of UK Special Forces, this is an excellent entry point. It covers the formation of the LRDG and its operations in the Western Desert and its support to the formative SAS. It’s a bit frustrating that the second half of the LRDG’s story is not covered at all but there are other histories available to cover that era (check out the bibliography!) and this book’s strong points are the authors’ enthusiasm and the way they bring life (and fighting) in the desert to life.

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