The Book Dad – Commando – James Owen
s I am clearly on a reading theme, I had to buy this one. The review by Tony Rennell for the Daily Mail and the avalanche of abusive criticism that he stirred up told me I would not like this book.
I was wrong! (But I do think the picture on the dust jacket is quite awful). The book, though, is jolly good – ‘Boy’s Own/Roy of the Rovers’ stuff’!
I did find the book difficult to follow chronologically at times: one minute we are in the Libyan desert, and the next we are in the Lofoten Islands – but some time earlier – (and we read of the famous telegram sent to a Mr A. Hitler in Berlin).
Anyway, the book shows how these brave men, who were ill equipped, ill informed, frequently without maps or a working knowledge of Morse code, submarines turning up at the wrong bay, were taking the war to the enemy. What else should we have done in those desperate and dark days?
As Churchill himself said “enterprise must be prepared, with specially trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down these coasts…how wonderful it would be if the Germans could be made to wonder where they were going to be struck next..” Colonel Robert Laycock, Commander of Force Z, said “he wanted men that could adopt the lightning, destructive and ruthless methods of the gangster”.
Owen (left) shows how the early raids – apart from Lofoten – were seriously flawed. The trip to the Hotel des Roses in Rhodes was in vain: the attack was cancelled. Rommel hadn’t been at the villa at Beda Littoria for months and was at his 50th Birthday party in Rome at the time of the attempt to capture him“…a calamitous failure”. The raid on the Italian port of Bardia ‘did not go well’.
“Living behind enemy lines is very unlike any other form of soldiering…one can never feel quite at ease”: an understatement by Laycock, if ever I saw one! And, “Never in the history of human endeavour have so few been buggered by so many”.
All this saw the end of Commando activity in the Middle East.
But now, in October 1941, the command of ‘Combined Operations’ falls to Mountbatten and ‘it marked the end of an era of gallant amateurism’. Or did it?
In December 1941, there was ‘Archery’, the raid on Vaagso, north of Bergen, ‘Mad Jack’ Churchill dashing ashore playing his bagpipes and armed with his claymore, 130 Germans killed for the loss of 17 commandos (and 98 prisoners taken). ‘Postmaster’ in West Africa – a successful collaboration between intelligence services and special forces, not often repeated, ‘Chariot’, the raid on St Nazaire, ‘Jubilee’ the very costly raid on Dieppe, ‘Frankton’, the ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ raid on ships in Bordeaux harbour (read my review of Ashdown’s first rate book on that), and on to ‘Overlord’, Lord Lovat, to link up with the 6th Airborne Division at the Caen Canal and Orne River bridges, piped ashore by Bill Millin…
This book is a first-rate read, and very well researched – even if some do take issue with his conclusion about the impact that all this bravery had on the outcome of the war.
The Book Dad Rating – 4.5/5