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Ghost Patrol: A History of the Long Range Desert Group, 1940 - 1945, by John Sadler

Oxford & Philadelphia: Casemate, 2015. Pp. xxx, 290. Illus., maps, chron., dramatis, appends., gloss., notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 1612003362.

The Real “Rat Patrol” and Its Work

Certainly among the most well-known aspects of the desert war, the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) has been the subject of numerous books, films, and even an American television series, most of which have had a germ of truth and a lot of myth. In this book, British military historian and novelist Sadler, author of works such as Operation Mercury: The Battle for Crete and As Good As Any Man: Scotland’s Black Tommy, gives us a more serious look at one of the early special operations forces to emerge during the Second World War, which still influences special operations doctrine.

Sadler opens with a chapter that sets the stage, sketching in the origins of the British presence in Egypt, the challenges the desert presents to military activity, and a glimpse at earlier campaigns in the region. He then reviews the origins of British special operations forces in the Middle East during 1940, when the idea of using small numbers of personnel on very specialized missions could offer great benefits with relatively little risk. This is followed by several chapters on the role of the LRDG in the desert war in 1940-1942, where the group made a significant contribution to Allied victory. There follow several chapters on the work of the LRDG in Italy, the Aegean, and the Balkans in 1942-1945, where it proved less effective. Sadler includes in this a short discussion of why the LRDG was disbanded not long after the defeat of Germany, rather than dispatched to the Far East, as many its personnel expected. He concludes with a chapter that provides overview of the history of special operations since the end of World War II.

Sadler seasons his account with appropriate historical asides and profiles of many people, most of them on the eccentric side, as well as with digressions on logistics and specialized equipment, and there’s a great deal on how tradecraft, including the difficulties of operating in the desert, and more. His many appendices deal with such matters as equipment, rations, and remarkably even Italian and German special operations forces in the desert war, a seriously neglected subject.

Ghost Patrol is a good – or more correctly probably the best – work for the general reader about these special operations, and would certainly prove useful reading for the specialist on the subject as well.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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