REVIEW: Stirling’s Desert Triumph – The SAS Egyptian Airfield Raids 1942

Osprey Publishing, Raid Series of Books, Raid 49. Author – Gavin Mortimer and Illustrator Peter Dennis

Gavin’s book details the Assault of key German Airfields and supply lines in North Africa during WWII by Stirling’s SAS desert warfare specialists. The British SAS and Long Range Desert Group (Also a SAS extension) conducted a series of raids hell bent on disrupting the German and Italian main battlefield support airfields and supply lines.

Overall the author does a great job of detailing the exploits and raids by Stirling and his teams. Their work during World War II is the stuff of legends! Not only were these men fighting the Nazis, but they were fighting the elements, daily. This particular book has a ton of pictures that clearly depicts the men, their equipment and their dangerous missions in the Desert. A great history captured in print and in images.

The raid on Sidi Haneish was the high water mark for the SAS in North Africa. The raid resulted in destroyed German Aircraft and a severe disruption of airfield services for weeks. Stirling was a excellent leader and specialist in hit and run tactics. He proved to be a key asset to Bernard Montgomery’s Eight Army as they planned the assault and defeat of Rommel. With the Afrika Corps receiving regular supplies through the ports of Tobruk and Benghazi, Montgomery instructed Stirling’s L detachment to work with Commandos and Special Boot Services to raid the port of Benghazi on the night of September 13/14 while a combined force of commandos and infantry provided a seaborne attack on Tobruk. Although Stirling did not agree with the planning and approach they proceeded anyway. The force was ambushed and forced to flee across the desert. The force experienced loss of life and equipment. Lesson Learned. MEHQ began to understand how to best use the Special Forces under their control.

As the force expanded to 29 officers and over 500 enlisted men, so did the requests for their services. The force was blessed with audacious leadership from legends like Stirling, Paddy Mayne, Carol Mather, Stephen Hastings, Johnny Cooper, and numerous others.

When Stirling was captured by the Germans later in the war Rommel remarked, “The British lost the very able and adaptable Commander of the Desert group which has caused more damage that any other British unit of equal size.” High praise from Rommel. Stirling was a POW until 1945. After the war, Stirling was a major influence in convincing British leadership to deploy the SAS to the Far East.

Knighted in 1990, Stirling died a few months later at the age of 74. A long great life for a great commander.

Special Note: In the US a TV Show called “The Rat Patrol” aired on ABC between 1966 and 1968. The show was loosely based on the exploits of four Allied soldiers — three Americans and one Brit — who were part of a LRDG in North Africa during World War II. Their mission: “to attack, harass and wreak havoc on Field Marshal Rommel’s vaunted Afrika Korps”. The show ran two season with over fifty episodes but it clearly placed Americans into the roles which they did not serve. A move typical of Hollywood’s depiction of heroes in World War II movies of that period. The real heroes were the Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis that served in these awesome units. There were no Americans fighting alongside the SAS or LRDG during WWII.

About the author. Gavin Mortimer is the author of Stirling’s Men (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004), a ground-breaking history of the early operations of Britain’s Special Air Service, The Longest Night: Voices from the London Blitz (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005) and The Blitz: An Illustrated History (Osprey, 2010). An award-winning writer whose books have been published on both sides of the Atlantic, Gavin has previously written for the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the Observer and Esquire magazine. He continues to contribute to a wide range of newspapers and magazines from BBC History to the American Military History Quarterly. In addition, he has lectured on the SAS in World War II at the UK’s National Army Museum. Peter Dennis was born in 1950. Inspired by contemporary magazines such as Look and Learn he studied illustration at Liverpool Art College. Peter has since contributed to hundreds of books, predominantly on historical subjects, including many Osprey titles.

This book is available on (US), Amazon UK and at Osprey Publishing.