Brendan O’Carroll, The Long Range Desert Group in Action 1940-1943 (Pen & Sword, 2020)
The SAS receive much of the plaudits for behind the lines action in the Desert War, but the Long Range Desert Group, created from volunteers from Britain and the Commonwealth, performed a valuable function for the Allied war effort in North Africa and the Mediterranean. Brendan O’Carroll’s photograph laden book takes us inside that force with a general reference to the vehicles, weapons, equipment, uniforms, and men of the LRDG with some background history on how and where they were used.
O’Carroll begins with the formation of the Long Range Patrol Unit (LRP) in the Summer of 1940. New Zealanders mostly made up the first crop of volunteers, and they were so successful that Rhodesian and British troops became involved in the newly named LRDG in December. They were a hardy bunch, driving specially adapted vehicles. Their job was to report from behind enemy lines in the desert, set ambushes, destroy supplies, and in short create mayhem. They also made use of an obsolete Vickers Valentia bomber for recon in the early days.
The LRDG began operations in the Fezzan in Libya in 1941, fighting against the Italians. O’Carroll next surveys the CMP Ford F30 vehicle that came in after nine months to replace the Chevrolets worn out from earlier actions. The Ford was not as popular but still carried the LRDG into further actions alongside the SAS. New Chevrolets replaced the Fords in 1942 and Jeeps were used as command vehicles. By then, the unit had moved to Siwa and began aggressive patrolling, mostly at night, causing chaos behind enemy lines. But recon and intelligence gathering still played a major role for the LRDG. O’Carroll adds a chapter on the LRDG Air Section, which consisted of two sturdy Waco Cabin biplanes. These conducted recon, supply delivery, and casualty evacuation, though one was damaged beyond repair.
One particular LRDG action deserves a chapter from O’Carroll: the Barce Raid in September 1942. This was an assault on a town and airfield in northern Libya that proved successful to the war effort, though the LRDG lost considerable material but few men. By 1943, the British were advancing across North Africa with the LRDG helping to prepare critical outflanking manoeuvres. But, when the Axis forces surrendered in May 1943, there was no operational use for the LRDG, which retired to rest and reorganize in Egypt. Their work was not done, however, and the LRDG took part in the Dodecanese Operations in the Aegean in 1943. They did this mostly on foot, however, operating behind enemy lines as small units, but sometimes grouped together for bigger actions. They had their failures in this theatre but there is no denying their courage. They also fought in Italy and Yugoslavia until the end of the war.
Despite the text being of secondary importance in this book, there is enough action in O’Carroll’s narrative to excite the imagination and admiration for these soldiers. But it is the photographs that the Images of War series is known for and this edition does not disappoint. O’Carroll’s selection covers all aspects of the LRDG’s work and the vehicles and weapons they used in their devastating raids. The final section on their efforts in the Mediterranean illuminates a less familiar area of their deployment. Modellers will find everything they need in this book for their art, and wargamers will find much to chew on to recreate LRDG scenarios. General readers of the Desert War will also find the book informative and entertaining.