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Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War Paperback – August 29, 2017
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Britain’s Special Air Service—or SAS—was the brainchild of David Stirling, a young, gadabout aristocrat whose aimlessness in early life belied a remarkable strategic mind. Where most of his colleagues looked at a battlefield map of World War II’s African theater and saw a protracted struggle with Rommel’s desert forces, Stirling saw an opportunity: given a small number of elite, well-trained men, he could parachute behind enemy lines and sabotage their airplanes and war material. Paired with his constitutional opposite, the disciplined martinet Jock Lewes, Stirling assembled a revolutionary fighting force that would upend not just the balance of the war, but the nature of combat itself. He faced no little resistance from those who found his tactics ungentlemanly or beyond the pale, but in the SAS’s remarkable exploits facing the Nazis in the Africa and then on the Continent can be found the seeds of nearly all special forces units that would follow.
Bringing his keen eye for psychological detail to a riveting wartime narrative, Ben Macintyre uses his unprecedented access to SAS archives to shine a light inside a legendary unit long shrouded in secrecy. The result is not just a tremendous war story, but a fascinating group portrait of men of whom history and country asked the most.
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“Ben Macintyre’s suspenseful new book, Rogue Heroes, about the founding of Britain’s S.A.S. during World War II, reads like a mashup of 'The Dirty Dozen' and 'The Great Escape,' with a sprinkling of “Ocean’s 11” thrown in for good measure… Mr. Macintyre draws sharp, Dickensian portraits of these men, and he displays his usual gifts here for creating a cinematic narrative that races along… Mr. Macintyre is masterly in using details to illustrate his heroes’ bravery, élan and dogged perseverance…a gripping account of the early days of S.A.S.”
—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Rogue Heroes is a terrific story of human enterprise, endurance and achievement and vividly brings to life an extraordinary cast of characters…. An absorbing story of derring-do, told with skill and flair.”
—Wall Street Journal
“[A] riveting new history… Macintyre has produced yet another wonderful book… even minor characters bristle with life.... This is the spot in the book review where I’m supposed to find some point to quibble with, some omission, some historical inaccuracy, some flaw. Sorry to disappoint. The fact is Macintyre has produced yet another wonderful book. As Captain What What might have put it, this is a ripping good read.”
—The Washington Post
"Rogue Heroes is a thrilling saga, breathtakingly told, full of daring and heroes… One of the many virtues of this volume… is the surprising small asides tucked into these pages, tiny truths that give the book depth along with derring-do.”
—The Boston Globe
“Rogue Heroes is the best and most complete version of the tale...a highly enjoyable and entertaining narrative.”
—New York Times Book Review
“One of the remarkable aspects of Macintyre’s authorized-if-not-official history is that he keeps a cool hand on the theatrics…while maintaining an edge-of-the-seat narrative. The exploits have an authentic feel…and it is no easy thing to capture the spell of dire circumstance and distill it in such a way to be experiential to those who’ve never spent a moment wondering where in the darkness that sniper is.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“[This] entertaining World War II history will keep you tossing and alert late into the night.”
“Rogue Heroes provides an inside look at an important struggle.”
—Galveston Daily News
“Mr. Macintyre demonstrates superb skill as a journalist and a writer in this riveting book that takes readers into a long-past and still-frightening world of what real war was like.”
—The Washington Times
“[A] well-written and comprehensive history . . . Macintyre uses unprecedented access to the SAS official records, along with memoirs, diaries, and interviews with the few surviving veterans, to chronicle the major operations, key personalities, successes, and failures of the regiment in WWII. He vividly captures the bravery and the sheer audaciousness of the SAS troopers and their leadership operating hundreds of miles behind enemy lines. . . . Macintyre delivers a solid history and an enjoyable read that will appeal to those interested in military history as well as readers who enjoy real-life tales of adventure.”
“A rollicking tale of ‘unparalleled bravery and ingenuity, interspersed with moments of rank incompetence, raw brutality and touching human frailty.’”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A brilliant account…The author offers vivid information…The story will echo the voices of future generations of special forces hear in Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor and Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down. Macintyre’s masterly storytelling highlights the bravery of these valiant men.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
“A superb study of wartime daring. A compelling tale full of jeopardy: bone-shattering parachute drops, terrifying night-time raids on Nazi airfields, fizzing explosive fuses, near escapes in screaming jeeps, harrowing marches through deserts, frozen forest encounters with desperate Germans and mad, edgy drinking bouts that could end with grenades being flourished.”
“Told with brilliance. The SAS are still about the best of their kind, and how they began to achieve this is an exotic saga indeed. No one will ever tell it better than this.”
“Follows the SAS from its early days in north Africa to the end of the war. Throughout the tales of scarcely believable heroism, derring-do, courage, camaraderie and endurance come faster than the bullets out of a Vickers machine gun. Meticulously researched. Macintyre has written about a fascinating subject in a way that would make any thriller writer proud. As a work of military history it is thorough and highly entertaining. It would be nigh on impossible to praise it too highly.”
“A refreshing account of the origins of the regiment of balaclava-clad silent killers during the Second World War. Macintyre has a wonderful eye for eccentricity, and the narrative is peppered with extraordinary characters. At times there is more than a whiff of PG Wodehouse or Evelyn Waugh.”
—Evening Standard (A Book of the Year)
“Thrilling. Ben Macintyre is the ideal narrator.”
“Macintyre tells it with flair. A great read of wartime adventuring.”
—Richard Overy, The Guardian
“A master at setting the pulse racing, Macintyre relates stories of raw courage and daring.”
—Tony Rennell, Daily Mail
“Ben Macintyre's coverage of the SAS in north Africa and, later, Italy, France and Germany, is brilliant, blending gripping narratives of fighting with descriptions of the fears of individual soldiers before battle and their reactions to its horror. Britain's martial pantheon is full of outnumbered heroes who wouldn't throw in the sponge. Henry V's band of brothers at Agincourt, the redcoats at Waterloo, the defenders of Rorke's drift, and the paras who charged at Goose Green are part of the tradition that embraces the SAS. This book explains why.”
“Grippingly readable. Macintyre tells the extraordinary story of the SAS compellingly.”
“Fascinating, entertaining, insightful, thoughtful. Macintyre tells the story of the early years of the SAS with panache.”
—Mail on Sunday
“Macintyre writes with the diligence and insight of a journalist, and the panache of a born storyteller.”
—John Banville, author of The Sea and The Untouchable
“By far the best book on the SAS in World War II—impeccably researched and superbly told.”
—Antony Beevor, author of D-Day and Stalingrad
“We all have to come from somewhere. Rogue Heroes gives a glimpse deep down the rabbit hole into how the special forces world started. This is a great look at how a motivated bunch of badasses changed the tide of war and carved the path for the rest of us to follow.”
—Marcus Luttrell, former U.S. Navy SEAL and author of Lone Survivor
'Accessible yet authoritative. Delivers stories of tremendous adventure and derring-do, but also offers more than straightforward military history. This book has many strengths but perhaps its greatest is how thought-provoking it is'
—Laurence Rees, author of World War II Behind Closed Doors
About the Author
- Publisher : Crown; Reprint edition (August 29, 2017)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1101904186
- ISBN-13 : 978-1101904183
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.21 x 5.24 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #47,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The Special Air Service was born in the North African desert, where an insubordinate lieutenant named David Stirling managed to charm his way into British HQ in Cairo and talk a general into accepting a plan that everyone else on the staff thought utterly mad. Stirling’s notion was that a small unit of unusually brave and enterprising men could parachute behind enemy lines and do great damage to the German armed forces. He set out to make Erwin Rommel‘s life miserable, and he nearly succeeded.
A Scottish aristocrat who had failed at everything in civilian life, Stirling had his way at least in part because the commanding general knew his family and had actually visited the ancestral Stirling home. Thus he was authorized to give his idea a try. He began with a handful of men under the arbitrary name L Detachment of the Special Air Service. By the end of the war less than four years later, the SAS had grown into a brigade of 2,500 men consisting of five regiments. Two were British, two French, and one Belgian, but all were under British command. Operating in secrecy during most of the war, the SAS was one of the Allies’ most celebrated fighting units by the time the war ended.
Together, the several thousand men who served in the SAS destroyed huge numbers of German and Italian airplanes, trains, ammunition and fuel depots, and trucks, killed hundreds of enemy soldiers, and took hundreds of prisoners. One SAS unit also opened the eyes of the world to the unspeakable horrors of the now notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In the course of these incomparably eventful four years, a great many men of the SAS died, were wounded, or captured. But the pattern was set. One after another, many of the world’s nations copied the SAS model. In the United States, the first was Delta Force, formed in 1977. Special forces are now an indispensable element of virtually every one of today’s armies.
MacIntyre brings the SAS story vividly to life with special attention to Stirling and a handful of other leaders, not all of them commissioned officers.
About the author
The spies and unconventional warriors of the Second World War star in four out of Ben MacIntyre’s eleven books, all nonfiction. (The others are Agent Zigzag, Operation Mincemeat, Double Cross, and Rogue Heroes. I’ve reviewed all but the first of these.) MacIntyre is an historian and a columnist for The Times of London.
But you do have to give Churchill credit, because he had the intestinal fortitude to authorize it, and the fact was that he didn't really have a lot of other resources at the time, against the formidable and ruthless hordes of the German Wermacht.
This is just an incredibly absorbing tale, of the courageous men of the SAS who went behind enemy lines in wartime to disrupt and destroy any and everything they could, which severely threw the Germans into a quandary, but who sometimes didn't live to tell about it.
Just the idea of doing it was revolutionary, and now I guess all countries do it, but I'm thinking the British were the first.
They started by dropping a platoon of men by parachute behind the lines at night, along with their jeeps and weapons, which they had rigged for dropping out of the planes.
But wind and foul weather frequently caused the pilots to be unable to find the drop zones, and men got injured, and scattered all over the countryside. Sometimes, their jeeps and equipment became lost, or severely damaged in the drop.
This would happen quite often, which resulted in a stalemated operation, where they were lucky to even recover the men and equipment they started out with. Or, both the men and equipment were spread out over such a wide area that they couldn't get everybody together, never mind completing the raid.
Envision men stumbling around aimlessly, with daylight approaching, and no cohesion or uniformity of purpose, just trying to find each other in the confusion.
Ultimately, they resorted to stealth, of driving jeeps into the desert deep behind the lines under cover of darkness, and thereby having an intact force to really wreak havoc, which they did, over and over.
On a long trip, it was disastrous to be caught in the open during daylight, so they would have to hide from observation from the air, under whatever shade they could find, until darkness fell again.
Sometimes, if no trees or bushes were handy, they pitched camouflage netting, and hoped they wouldn't be spotted.
With two Sten guns per jeep, plus many pencil bombs, they could devastate a hangar full of German fighter planes, plus trucks and tanks, or anything else they stumbled across.
At first they had fabulous success because the outposts were largely undefended, especially at night, and especially out in the desert, with nobody suspecting that they would ever be attacked so far in back of the lines, but that's where they scored their greatest successes.
Of course, in time, the enemy learned to always have guards posted, but this only proved to be a minor inconvenience, which they quickly eliminated.
But once the Germans realized that they were subject to attack at any time, in any location, they stepped up their surveillance, and so they had to constantly find new ways to make their strikes - which they did do, but it was never easy.
Top reviews from other countries
In doing this, we see individual characters, either start off as somewhat odd, or how the constant sudden violence progressively affects them, and MacIntyre does this beautifully. The strange melding of potentially fractious or insubordinate soldiers, and the gradual evolution of the role of the SAS from the seriously questionable (parachuting into the desert many miles from any recovery point in terrible weather) to the classic hit-and-run and then on to the multiple recalibrations in Europe is masterfully handled.
He manages to portray the increasing strain and its effect on a cross section of the soldiers. He even manages to handle issues such as the probable homosexuality of one of the ever-presents in a sympathetic manner which highlights the poor man's isolation (the dog makes it all the more poignant), although anyone capable of participating in Stirling's early mob was clearly not a "well-adjusted member of normal society".
I have enjoyed everything Ben MacIntyre has written, his demolition of Philby is masterful, his recounting of other military events is first class, but this book has a new subtlety and more strongly reflects the changes in perception which came about as the true nature of Nazi Germany became ever more clear to the Western Allies.
Macintyre uses the SAS war diary as the backbone of his narrative, and is candid about failure as well as the hard-earned successes. The SAS was an irregular unit, its members drawn from an extraordinary range of backgrounds – a spectacles salesman, a textile merchant, a tomato farmer, amateur boxer, and so on – with a range of motives to match. Some wanted excitement, some liked killing and made no pretence about it, some were escaping from their past, some were too eccentric for the ranks; all had to be fit, alert, crafty, ruthless if required and dedicated to the mission. Stirling was also aware that his outfit did not meet with approval in conventional military circles, which saw war as face-to-face, not behind the back. Churchill liked the force, and would no doubt have joined it had it existed in his youth. But through the campaign in North Africa, then Italy and Germany, the SAS had always to prove itself, in order to stave off disbandment.
Overall just a fantastic book!
While the note at the begging admits the mass of operations left of this text, and the fact that it jumps from the end of Africa in 1942 and goes into Europe in 1944, the content within is page turning and engaging throughout. Combined with four sections (each with a few pages) of photographs this book is one to be enjoyed. For that reason, out of the two, I'd go with hardback over paperback with this title.
Very well put together and much enjoyed.