Sunday, September 18, 2016

Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre

Ben Macintyre's 'Rogue Heroes' takes a look at the history of the SAS throughout the Second World War, concentrating on their exploits in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.  This is a journalistic text and it often reads more as a series of adventure stories than a history.  There's much that's left out and a lot that a historian would have emphasized, deconstructed, or better analyzed, but one can't blame a journalist for doing his job.  Similarly, there is a limit to the documentation that was available to Macintyre so the final product is an engaging introduction to British Special Forces and the many operations they took part in throughout WWII.

What surprised me most was the amateurish nature of both the creation of the SAS and the blasé attitude of many of the commanding officers and the soldiers themselves to their missions.  The very first mission was a complete and utter disaster, something they would not repeat very soon but inevitably would repeat later on in the war.  Dozens of SAS volunteers would die due to circumstances of their own creation in situations that could have been readily avoided, either displaying blind indifference to danger or an unrestrained courage with predictable results.  For a force of men and arms that numbered so few their destructive power(s) were proven again and again in the continued problems they caused Rommel in Africa and the eventual Commando Order issued by Hitler that meant death for any SAS operative if caught behind enemy lines, even if in uniform.  Another surprise was the deadly nature of the clash in the French countryside between the French resistance, SAS, and other units operating against the Germans and their collaborators.  Too often German forces took to reprisal actions against entire villages that were very much reminiscent of their actions on the Eastern Front where the line between victim, bystander, and accomplice could change in a heartbeat depending on the situation one found him/herself in.  Finally, a bit disappointing was the final chapter in the story of the SAS.  Not much time or documentation was devoted to their attempts to capture those Germans who perpetrated war crimes against SAS soldiers.  Similarly, what happened to those who joined the SAS and survived the war was also covered fairly quickly, whereas I would have appreciated a more in-depth look at what men who saw so much death and destruction took away from the war and how they lived their lives after.

No comments: