If you’re like me, then the recent conflict in Libya has probably got you thinking about the war in the Western Desert during the Second World War.

In my case, its also renewed my interest in finding out more about operations there in the First World War too – my grandfather served in a Canadian motorized reconnaissance unit attached to the British Army in the Libyan desert.  But whilst I’m still looking for info about that particular period, Osprey published two excellent reference books about special operations in Western Desert in WWII last year…

Desert Raiders:  Axis and Allied Special Forces 1940-43

The harsh and inhospitable North African theatre of World War II proved to be a perfect environment for irregular warfare and the deployment of Special Forces. And following Italy’s entry into the war in June 1940, the Western Desert became the background for a long conflict, primarily dominated by motorized units. The major combatants – Great Britain, Free France, Italy and Germany – all developed irregular units to exploit the unique conditions of the region with varying degrees of success. This book details the genesis, organization and tactics of these forces, including such famous units as the Long Range Desert Group and the Special Air Service – and for anyone who’s seen the film “The English Patient” you’ll learn the full and real story about Hungarian explorer turned special intelligence operative Count László Almásy.  The other interesting discovery in this book for me was that it was actually the Italians who developed and deployed the most effective vehicle for special operations in the desert – a vehicle which looks an awful lot like some of the modern SOF vehicles we see in use in Afghanistan and Iraq today.

Long Range Desert Group Patrolman: The Western Desert 1940-43

Nicknamed the ‘Libyan Desert Taxi Service’ by the SAS, the Long Range Desert Group was tasked with strategic reconnaissance and raiding operations deep inside the enemy-held deserts of North Africa. Armed with light weapons only, and equipped with specially converted light cars and trucks capable of withstanding the harsh conditions, the LRDG quickly proved it could operate in parts of the desert which other troops, including the enemy, found impassable. This book provides details the soldiers of the LRDG from the group’s formation, through training, to combat in vast, lonely, and deadly deserts of North Africa.  In this book you’ll also learn that the LRDG actually proved to be less effective in raiding than it did in reconnaissance and that many of the vehicles they used proved quite inadequate for the tough desert conditions and terrain.  Nonetheless, you can see here the beginnings of the types of integrated, combined operations between air power, heavy ground forces and light special operations forces that have proven to be so effective in modern warfare.


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